Louise's Reviews > Black Fortunes: The Story of the First Six African Americans Who Escaped Slavery and Became Millionaires

Black Fortunes by Shomari Wills
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really liked it
bookshelves: business, african-americans

Author Shomari Wills profiles 6 black Americans who, despite overt post slavery racism, made fortunes. Each lived with a powder keg of challenges to not only their wealth, but also their lives.

While all those profiled faced emotional and legal hostility, the two men faced outsized violence for everyday actions, be they business decisions or the simple actions of others.

Mary Ellen Pleasant’s drive and determination took her to the California Gold Rush where she made a fortune lending money. She was able to fund and help plan John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry. Hannah Elias, who invested the money she received as mistress to a wealthy (married and white) man, stands as testimony to “money doesn’t buy happiness” and how this adage is compounded when race is a factor. The other two women profiled rivaled each other in producing hair products for the black market.

None of the women faced the violence on the scale of that faced by the men. Robert Reed Church had to defend his business through race riots and had to prove himself again and again. OW Gurley lost the whole town he developed to arson in north Tulsa, OK.

Wills gives an update on the 6 people and their legacy.

The author, in his introduction says the bios are short because sources are limited. The subjects left few heirs to tell their stories. They did not write diaries or many letters. I hope more sources can be found somewhere. Perhaps there stories passed down from those that knew them or something about them, since each of those profiled is worthy of a full scale biography. Until more information can be found, this is an good introduction to this topic and these entrepreneurs. The book is appropriate for adults and young adults.
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Reading Progress

Started Reading
June 22, 2019 – Shelved
June 22, 2019 – Shelved as: business
June 22, 2019 – Shelved as: african-americans
June 22, 2019 – Finished Reading

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