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Publisher's Summary

The astonishing untold history of America's first black millionaires - former slaves who endured incredible challenges to amass and maintain their wealth for a century, from the Jacksonian period to the Roaring '20s - self-made entrepreneurs whose unknown success mirrored that of American business heroes such as Henry Ford, John D. Rockefeller, and Thomas Edison.

While Oprah Winfrey, Jay-Z, Beyoncé, Michael Jordan, and Will Smith are among the estimated 35,000 black millionaires in the nation today, these famous celebrities were not the first blacks to reach the storied 1 percent. Between the years of 1830 and 1927, as the last generation of blacks born into slavery were reaching maturity, a small group of smart, tenacious, and daring men and women broke new ground to attain the highest levels of financial success.

Black Fortunes is an intriguing look at these remarkable individuals, including Napoleon Bonaparte Drew - author Shomari Wills' great-great-great-grandfather - the first black man in Powhatan County (contemporary Richmond) to own property in post-Civil War Virginia. His achievements were matched by five other unknown black entrepreneurs including:

  • Mary Ellen Pleasant, who used her Gold Rush wealth to further the cause of abolitionist John Brown
  • Robert Reed Church, who became the largest landowner in Tennessee
  • Hannah Elias, the mistress of a New York City millionaire, who used the land her lover gave her to build an empire in Harlem
  • Orphan and self-taught chemist Annie Turnbo-Malone, who developed the first national brand of hair care products
  • Madam C. J Walker, Turnbo-Malone's employee who would earn the nickname America's "first female black millionaire"
  • Mississippi school teacher O. W. Gurley, who developed a piece of Tulsa, Oklahoma, into a "town" for wealthy black professionals and craftsmen that would become known as "the Black Wall Street"

A fresh, little-known chapter in the nation's story - a blend of Hidden Figures, Titan, and The Tycoons - Black Fortunes illuminates the birth of the black business titan and the emergence of the black marketplace in America as never before.

PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying reference material will be available in your Library section along with the audio.
©2018 Shomari Wills (P)2018 HarperCollins Publishers

What members say

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True His/Herstory

I loved the stories. It had confirmed the story of Robert Church, from a previous book I read. the narrator is fitting, not over barring or dull while narrating the story. Not being bias, but as a black male I feel black history is American history.

10 of 10 people found this review helpful

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Great Read! True Nuggets of Black Entrepreneurship

Liked the history and multiple number of success and full entrepreneurial journeys of these Black Americans. You will be forever changed with this read.

8 of 8 people found this review helpful

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Great story! Flowed perfectly

Great storytelling, phenomal flow/writing style and learned something! Absolutely recommend this book and it should be required reading for any African American lit class.

7 of 8 people found this review helpful

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Well written and narrated

Not your typical historically focused book. Written in more of a story-type format, I was engaged from the beginning and the energetic flow of the book kept me listening and thinking about the book even when I wasn’t listening. Highly recommend this for readers/listeners that enjoy historical and inspirational books.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Must listen, revealing look at early Black wealth

Very informative, and well performed. Explains the struggle, success, and tragedy of early Black wealth.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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AMAZING

This was an AMAZING book. You have sparked my curiosity even further about our journey here in the United States and what we are capable of doing. You also gave me a reminder by telling this story that we have work to do and the job is not yet done. Thank you for writing this book.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • T
  • 10-02-18

Inspirational

A lot of these stories go untold. It is refreshing and educational to learn of the stories that are ignored by conventional academia. Well researched!

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Untold Stories that will Inspire

This book provides an excellent glimpse into this untold and often overlooked aspect of the African American experience. These stories illustrate that though race and racism frequently have played a defining role in the African American experience many individuals have succeeded and flourished despite those odds. This book should be inspiration to anyone who questions whether they have what it takes to overcome adversity.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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A MUST READ FOR ALL BLACK CHILDREN

This book belongs in schools. Since we know that's not happening, please make sure your children read this phenomenal retelling of millionaires who transcended EVERYTHING. It's also important to remind this generation about the negative connotation associated with "pulling yourself up by your bootstraps". Blacks have done this throughout history, only to have the fruits of their labor stolen or destroyed. This piece is so important.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Inspirational

Incredible. Is the only way to describe the history you will hear and the caliber of people you will get to know. Loved it!

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Anonymous User
  • 04-04-18

Excellent!

Loved it! By turns, enlightening, inspirational and distressing but still sounding a note of optimism.