Black Fortunes: The Story of the First Six African-Americans Who Escaped Slavery and Became Millionaires

Shomari Wills. Amistad, $26.99 (320p) ISBN 978-0-06-243759-4
Wills, a former contributor to Good Morning America, chronicles the incredible stories of six self-made African-American millionaires who amassed great wealth in the decades after Lincoln’s emancipation proclamation. Hannah Elias (1865–1903) was given land by her millionaire lover and used her money to help African-Americans move into Harlem; schoolteacher O.W. Gurley (1868–1921) developed his land in Oklahoma into an all-black commerce district known as Black Wall Street; and Robert Reed Church (1839–1912) purchased properties in Memphis, which he transformed into the black music enclave that became Memphis’s famed Beale Street. Mary Ellen Pleasant (1814–1904) profited from the Gold Rush and used her wealth to fund abolitionist causes, including John Brown’s Harpers Ferry raid. Annie Minerva Turnbo (1877–1957), a self-taught chemist from Peoria, Illinois, built the first black hair care empire, only to be outdone by her former pupil, Madam C.J. Walker (1867–1919). Willis unearths these figures from obscurity using fluid prose and juicy detail (Elias had a “round face with a flat nose and big brown eyes with heavy eyelids. One of the girls who worked with Elias summed her up this way: ‘she exhibited a peculiar influence over white men’ ”). This highly readable group biography illustrates the ways those early millionaires “survived assassination attempts, lynchings, frivolous lawsuits, and criminal cases” and, in doing so, paved the way for Oprah, Beyoncé, and Jay-Z. (Jan.)
Reviewed on: 03/05/2018
Release date: 01/01/2018
Genre: Nonfiction
Downloadable Audio - 978-0-06-279755-1
Ebook - 320 pages - 978-0-06-243754-9
Compact Disc - 978-1-5384-9714-2
Compact Disc - 978-1-5384-9712-8
MP3 CD - 978-1-5384-9713-5
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