The 10 Most Important Black Business Luminaries

Visitors to name the 20th century's greatest

Marcus Garvey

(1887-1940) The Crusader. In 1914, Garvey founded and was the charismatic leader of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (U.N.I.A.). Its mission was to correct the injustices suffered by blacks everywhere. How? By building a strong economic base so that blacks could be self-sufficient. The U.N.I.A. led to the development of several businesses, including the Black Star Line, the Negro Factories Corp., and the Negro World. The U.N.I.A. succeeded in educating blacks about their history and inner strength. For many blacks, Garvey’s vision represented a way to bulldoze the systematic barriers in America. In 1922, the legend of Garvey’s work was distorted when he was convicted of mail fraud and sentenced to five years in prison. After receiving an early release from prison, he was deported to his homeland, Jamaica. To revive the U.N.I.A., he headed for England to make a new start. He died in 1940, but his death was not in vain. With his death, his work was widely recognized and acknowledged by leaders such as Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr.

Ronald H. Brown

(1941-1996) The Strategist. Born in Washington, D.C., Brown grew up in New York’s Harlem, the son of Howard University graduates. He was appointed secretary of commerce in 1993 after his success with handling the Clinton campaign as well as in his role as the chairman of the Democratic National Committee in 1989, making him the first African American to head a major American political party. Brown got his start in politics while working for the National Urban League in New York. He held various positions at the NUL, including those of general counsel, Washington spokesperson, and deputy executive director. He was elected district leader of the Democratic party in 1971. Brown held various political positions throughout his lifetime and served in the Army. He also held a law degree from St. John’s University School of Law in New York. His greatest political achievement was to unify the Democratic Convention in 1988, which led to his position on the committee. Brown died in a plane crash in Croatia.

Earl G. Graves Sr.

(1935- ) The Titan. As founder and publisher of black enterprise magazine, the leading authority on black business in America, Graves is the voice of black business. He began his mission 30 years ago, in New York, with a group of business leaders that included Shirley Chisholm and John Lewis. Together, they wrote in the magazine’s premier issue, “We feel that the health — indeed the survival — of this nation will depend upon the extent to which our ethnic minorities will participate and profit from its economic system.” Today, Black Enterprise magazine has a circulation of more than 300,000 and a readership of 3.1 million. Graves is chairman of Earl G. Graves Ltd., the parent company of Black Enterprise and many other company holdings. In recognition of his support for entrepreneurial education, including a $1 million gift to advance business education, Grave’s alma mater, Morgan State University in Baltimore, renamed its school of business and management the Earl G. Graves School of Business and Management. Today, Graves continues to support black businesses by speaking out against racial injustice through speeches, protests, and lobbying.