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

Front Cover
HarperCollins, Jan 30, 2018 - History - 320 pages

“By telling the little-known stories of six pioneering African American entrepreneurs, Black Fortunes makes a worthy contribution to black history, to business history, and to American history.”—Margot Lee Shetterly, New York Times Bestselling author of Hidden Figures

Between the years of 1830 and 1927, as the last generation of blacks born into slavery was reaching maturity, a small group of industrious, tenacious, and daring men and women broke new ground to attain the highest levels of financial success.

Mary Ellen Pleasant, used her Gold Rush wealth to further the cause of abolitionist John Brown. Robert Reed Church, became the largest landowner in Tennessee. Hannah Elias, the mistress of a New York City millionaire, used the land her lover gave her to build an empire in Harlem. Orphan and self-taught chemist Annie Turnbo-Malone, developed the first national brand of hair care products. Mississippi school teacher O. W. Gurley, developed a piece of Tulsa, Oklahoma, into a “town” for wealthy black professionals and craftsmen that would become known as “the Black Wall Street.” Although Madam C. J Walker was given the title of America’s first female black millionaire, she was not. She was the first, however, to flaunt and openly claim her wealth—a dangerous and revolutionary act.

Nearly all the unforgettable personalities in this amazing collection were often attacked, demonized, or swindled out of their wealth. Black Fortunes illuminates as never before the birth of the black business titan.


What people are saying - Write a review

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

User Review  - Publishers Weekly

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 ... Read full review

LibraryThing Review

User Review  - DavidWineberg - LibraryThing

Millionaires today are no big deal. Half of Congress is millionaires. Not impressed. But the first six black American millionaires is a terrific story. These unlikely individuals started off with huge ... Read full review


The First Black Millionaire
Abolitionism and Capitalism
King Cottons Bastard
Funding the Insurrection
Robert Reed Church and the Civil
The Near Lynching of a Millionaire
Forty Acres Deferred
Black Cleopatra
Last Days of Mary Ellen Pleasant
The Most Powerful Black Man Alive
Black Wall Street Rises
Battle for Hair Supremacy
The Trials of Hannah Elias
Black Millionaire Legacy
End of the Promise

Bob Church Versus Jim Crow
Mother of Civil Rights in California
Saint or Sinner?
Building the Promised Land in Oklahoma
Founding the Black Hair Industry
Paris by Way of Harlem
Source Notes

Other editions - View all

Common terms and phrases

About the author (2018)

Shomari Wills is a journalist. He has worked for CNN and Good Morning America, and has contributed to New York Carib News and Columbia Journalism Review. He received an undergraduate degree from Morehouse College and a graduate degree from Columbia University, where he was named a Lynton Book Writing Fellow. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Bibliographic information