Milestones Of The B.E. 100s

A look at a quarter-century of major events which shaped the growth of the nation's largest black-owned businesses

Chicago-based haircare products manufacturer, on the American Stock Exchange.

The largest black-owned auto dealership was Chicago-based Al Johnson Cadillac Inc., ranked No. 7 on the Top 100 with sales of $14.5 million. Al Johnson Cadillac became the nation’s first black-owned Cadillac dealership in 1967.

The first report on the nation’s largest black companies also included separate listings of commercial banks, savings & loan associations, life insurance firms and advertising agencies. Chicago’s Seaway National Bank led the commercial banks, Los Angeles’ Broadway Federal Savings & Loan Association led the thrifts and North Carolina Mutual (NCM) Life Insurance Co. topped the list of insurance firms. The largest black ad agency was New York’s John F. Small Inc., a three-year-old firm with billings of $7 million. However, the ad agency list would not be a permanent feature of the annual report after the first year.

Most revealing quote: “All too often unfair obstacles have been placed in the way of America’s minority citizens as they have strived to provide for themselves and their families. The very existence of the 100 black-owned businesses you have selected–and of hundreds more like them- -is clear evidence that the government, in active partnership with the private sector, can create the kind of climate of opportunity in which those with energy and drive can share more equitably in the rewards of the world’s most productive economic system.”–President Nixon, in a letter to Publisher Earl G. Graves, BE, June 1973.

1974: In an economy plagued by inflation, the nation’s largest black companies, now officially recognized as the BE 100, reported annual revenues of more than $600 million. Unlike the original list, this year’s report excluded professional firms, as would all future BE 100 lists.
Detroit’s Conyers Ford Inc., the only automobile dealership that would go on to be listed every year among the nation’s largest black businesses, was the largest black auto dealership in 1974, with sales of $7.7 million. Independence Bank of Chicago dethroned Seaway National Bank as the nation’s largest black commercial bank, while New York’s Carver Federal Savings & Loan became the largest black thrift.

Interesting fact: One of the most dominant industries of the early BE 100 lists was music recording and publishing, represented by companies such as Motown, The Sax Organization, Sussex Records and The Great Philadelphia Trading Co. Ltd. The CEOs of these businesses–Berry Gordy, Al Bell, Clarence Avant (currently the chairman of Motown, now a division of Polygram) and Kenny Gamble–were among the prime architects of America’s popular music landscape. Today, record companies are all but absent from the BE INDUSTRlAL/SERVICE 100; only Rush Communications, the New York-based music publishing and entertainment concern led by hip- hop mogul Russell Simmons, remains as the standard-bearer for African Americans in the music business.

Most revealing quote: “When I make money, I’d rather spend it trying to help develop other blacks coming up. Not because I’m a racist, but because I feel that there’s so much intelligence in the black community that is underdeveloped.”–Motown founder and CEO Berry Gordy, “Motown: The

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