African Americans have played an integral role in our financial and banking industries. In honor of Black History month, Ceto highlights several milestones African American leaders have achieved in finance and banking.
We hope these stories of influential leaders inspire you in your business endeavors and at home.
1778: Richard Allen and Absalom Jones established an organization called the Free African Society in Philadelphia to help educate African Americans on socioeconomic issues.
1879: Blanche Kelso Bruce was the first African American to appear on US Currency as Register of the Treasury. He was also the first African American to serve a full term in congress and was considered one of the most influential black men of his time.
1879: Capital Savings Bank was the first bank founded by African Americans and provided the capital needed for Black-owned businesses to grow.
1902: Maggie Lena Walker was the first African-American woman to establish and serve as president of a bank in the United States. When she found out that white-owned banks did not accept deposits from black organizations she had the idea to start her own bank, which continues today as the oldest African-American-owned bank in the United States.
1905: Alonzo Herndon founded the Atlanta Life Insurance Company which is still one of the largest Black financial institutions in the United States. Herndon, a former slave, became a barber and eventually opened a barbershop that catered to white men. At one point in time Herndon owned three barbershops and 100 properties in Atlanta. He became Atlanta’s first African American millionaire.
1910: C.J. Walker became the first female African American millionaire founding her brand of African American hair products. She went on to provide scholarships for women at the Tuskegee Institute and donated funds to other black-owned organizations and charities such as the NAACP and Black YMCA.
1927: Major R.R. Wright and 70 other black bankers founded the first professional organization of African Americans in finance called the Negro Bankers Association later it changed to the National Bankers Association and still operates today. Wright held to the idea that blacks are able to make significant contribution to the workforce and the world.
1970: Joseph L. Searles III is the first African American member of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE). Searles paved the way for subsequent African Americans to work in stock exchanges. Only one year later, Daniels & Bell, Inc. became the first Black-owned member firm of the New York Stock Exchange, according to Investopedia.
1977: Azie Taylor Morton becomes the 36th treasurer of the United States and the first African American woman to have her signature on US currency. According to Rediscovering Black History, “On September 12, 1977, Morton was appointed by President Jimmy Carter to serve as the 36th Treasurer of the United States. Morton was the first and only African American to hold the position. Morton’s duties as treasurer included being the depositary officer of the United States with regards to gold, Special Drawing Rights, and financial gifts to the Library of Congress.”
1987 TLC Beatrice International, a chain of grocery stories owned by Reginald F. Lewis becomes the first African American owned company exceeding $1 billion in sales. TLC Beatrice International Holdings Inc. became the nation’s largest snack food, beverage, and grocery store conglomerate with a global presence.
1989 The Financial Institutions Reform Recovery and Enforcement Act requires the FDIC help preserve and promote minority-owned institutions.
1993 Harry Alford and Kay Debow founded the National Black Chamber of Commerce. Today, the National Black Chamber is the largest Black business organization in the world. It has regional organizations in the United States, Africa, the Caribbean, Central and South America as well as London and Paris.
1993 Ron Brown became the first African American Secretary of Commerce. He proved that he was a highly skilled negotiator and lobbyist. He was an advocate for American business both at home and abroad, traveling the globe to cultivate opportunities and markets for American goods.
2001 Robert L. Johnson, the founder of Black Entertainment Television (BET), is the first African American Billionaire alongside his wife Sheila who is the nation’s first African American female billionaire. In the spring of 1980, Johnson took out a $15,000 loan and set out to launch his own business: a television station which he later sold for three billion dollars.
2009 Barack Obama becomes the first African American President of the United States. His wife, Michelle, is the nation’s first African American First Lady.
2018 23-year-old Lauren Simmons is the New York Stock Exchange’s youngest and only female equity trader.
2021 Kamala Harris becomes the first woman of color Vice President of the Unites States.