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Inspiring Black Business Legends

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Black History Month may be over for the rest of the country, but for our community, we’re celebrating our leaders, elders, and legends all year long. Read about these prosperous entrepreneurs and get inspired to create your own stories today.

Rose Morgan: Beautician Burned Banker

(R) Rose Morgan during a cosmetology class, 1956. (LIFE Photo Collection/Leonard McCombe)

Born in Mississippi and raised in Chicago, Rose Meta Morgan built her reputation while working in Harlem salons in the early 1940’s. Just six months after arriving, Morgan started her own business, Rose Meta’s House of Beauty in an antique mansion that quickly landed the title of the “biggest negro beauty parlor in the world.” Over the course of Morgan’s career, she trained 3,000 hairdressers in her beauty institutions. By the 1960’s Morgan founded the only Black commercial bank in New York City, Freedom National Bank. The Black community was deeply indebted to Morgan for her elevation of Black beauty and commitment to Black economic futures.

Leon H. Washington Jr.: Newspaper Publisher

(L to R) Compton Mayor Douglas Dollarhide, Los Angeles Mayor Sam Yorty and Los Angeles Sentinel owner and publisher, Leon Washington, on August 14, 1970. (Rolland J. Curtis Collection)

American newspaper publisher Leon H. Washington Jr. was the founder and first publisher of the Los Angeles Sentinel newspaper in Los Angeles, CA. Washington was born and raised in Kansas City, Kansas where he began his career in journalism by working for several newspapers. Through the Sentinel, Washington used his platform to expose discrimination and racism against Black people. In the 1930’s, Washington created the “Don’t Spend Where You Can’t Work” campaign in the newspaper during the Great Depression to persuade LA’s Black residents to shop at white owned businesses. This was the beginning of Sentinel’s many notable publications that shed light on South LA’s Black neighborhoods, Compton and Inglewood which led to the Sentinel being the blueprint of a Black way of life in LA.

Barbara Ross-Lee: Physician, Medical School Dean, and Entrepreneur

Dr. Barbara Ross Lee. (Source: https://cfmedicine.nlm.nih.gov/physicians/biography_279.html)

Dr. Barbara Ross-Lee is a physician and the first Black woman to serve as the dean of a U.S. medical school. Ross-Lee grew up in the inner city of Detroit, Michigan where she was raised in project housing until she went to college at Wayne State University in the 1960’s during the rise of the Civil Rights Movement. After graduating from medical school at Michigan State University of Osteopathic Medicine, Ross-Lee then proceeded to open her own private family practice in Detroit until 1984. Ross-Lee is the elder sister of singer Diana Ross.

A.G. Gatson: Entrepreneur and Businessman

 A.G. Gatson and his wife, Minnie Gatson in Birmingham, AL. (Birmingham Civil Rights Institute)

Birmingham, Alabama entrepreneur and businessman, Arthur George Gatson was one of the most prominent Black business owners in not only his home state of Alabama, but in the entire American South. Gatson owned a number of businesses in Birmingham which included a savings and loan bank, business college, construction company, motel, real estate business, burial insurance company, two centuries, and two radio stations. Overcoming humble beginnings and racial prejudice, Gatson created a 40 million dollar business empire while working behind the scenes to financially support the Civil Rights Movement, and played a significant role in the integration of Birmingham in the early 1960’s. 

Eunice W. Johnson: Businesswoman and Fashion Industry Pioneer

Eunice Johnson at work, 1970. (Johnson Publishing Company)

American businesswoman and true visionary, Eunice W. Johnson was both the founder and director of Ebony Fashion Fair, a fashion tour that highlighted the best fashion for Black women. Ebony Fashion Fair told a story to Black women, letting the world know that there is nothing a Black woman cannot wear. Most of the money that was raised during Ebony Fashion Fairs were donated to Black fundraisers. Johnson also served as the executive at Johnson Publishing Company started by her husband John H. Johnson. 

We Buy Black Intern Writer

Kaylah Mack

My name is Kaylah Mack and I am a senior at Spelman College where I am pursuing my undergraduate degree in English with a concentration in Journalism. My interest in Journalism stems from my love for writing, storytelling, and public speaking. In my free time, I enjoy listening to podcasts, meditating, exercising, baking, spending time with nature, and catching up with loved ones.

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