It’s been a quarter century since BLACK ENTERPRISE first began to track the growth and development of the nation’s largest black-owned companies. Today, it is the most authoritative barometer of the progress African Americans have made toward fully partaking in the nation’s economic bounty.
From the bootstrap entrepreneurial legacy of A.G. Gaston and John H. Johnson to the deal-making wizardry of Reginald F. Lewis and Robert Johnson, the BLACK ENTERPRISE 100s encompass American business at its best. The people and events that have shaped the nature of black business since our Top 100 list was first published could fill several volumes. Summarized on the following pages are the ups and downs of 25 years of entrepreneurial excellence.
1973: The June issue of BE featured the the inaugural report on the nation’s largest black-owned companies. Like the Super Bowl, which wasn’t so named until the third annual championship game between the American and National football leagues was played, the most successful black-owned companies were not officially designated the BE 100 until the 1974 report. While there is one reference to the BE 100 in the 1973 report, the list was originally designated “The Nation’s 100 Top Black Businesses,” or simply the “Top 100.” The list, like the magazine that created it, was an undeniable manifestation of the civil rights victories of the 1960s and the “Black Capitalism” initiatives that were a hallmark of the presidential administration of President Richard M. Nixon.
The original Top 100 included industrial and service businesses as well as professional (i.e., accounting, architectural) firms and auto dealerships. Total annual sales for the companies on this list was $473.4 million, including $1 million generated by each of the eight smallest companies on the list. BE’s Top 100 companies employed a total of 9,267 people. No. 1 on the list: Los Angeles-based Motown Industries, the legendary music recording company founded by Berry Gordy, with sales of $40 million. Motown would maintain its No. 1 ranking on the list until 1983.
There were two publicly traded black companies on the original list: Baltimore’s Parks Sausage Co., traded on the National Association of Securities Dealers Automated Quotation exchange (NASDAQ), and Johnson Products Co., the