Required Reading on Black Business History

Books by and about great black entrepreneurs underscore our legacy in business.

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Every American should read the biographies of Arthur G. Gaston (pictured above) and other black business history makers.

Each February, as we celebrate Black History Month, we recognize the achievements of black Americans in the arenas of politics, civil rights, sports, arts and entertainment and education. Rarely, however, is there a focus on our long and great legacy as entrepreneurs and business leaders.

Unfortunately, this often leaves us with the false impression that African Americans have no legacy of success in business; that black business achievement began with John H. Johnson (or worse, Magic Johnson, Russell Simmons and Sean “P. Diddy” Combs). Of course, long time readers and subscribers of Black Enterprise magazine know different–for us, every month, is Black History Month. We know that our legacy as black entrepreneurs can be traced back to colonial America.

For the rest of us, it’s long past time that we celebrate our historic contributions to American business. The following books are a great beginning, but only the beginning. I urge you to read them, to share them with others and to help to ensure that the names and achievements of A.G. Gaston, Madam C.J. Walker and Reginald F. Lewis are as revered in American history as those of Jackie Robinson, Rosa Parks and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Comer Cottrell: A Story That Will Inspire Future Entrepreneurs by Comer Cottrell (Brown Books)

How To Succeed in Business Without Being White: Straight Talk on Making It in America by Earl G. Graves (HarperBusiness)

On Her Own Ground: The Life and Times of Madam C. J. Walker by A’Lelia Bundles

The Herndons: An Atlanta Family by Carole Merritt (University of Georgia Press)

Doing Business by the Good Book: 52 Lesson on Success Straight From the Bible by David L. Steward with Robert L. Shook (Hyperion)

Black Enterprise Lessons From the Top: Success Strategies from America’s Leading Black CEOs by Derek T. Dingle (John Wiley & Sons)

“Why Should White Guys Have All the Fun?”: How Reginald F. Lewis Created a Billion-Dollar Business Empire by Reginald F. Lewis and Blair Walker (John Wiley & Sons)

Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black Millionaire by Carol Jenkins and Elizabeth Gardner Hines (One World)

Succeeding Against The Odds: The Autobiography of a Great American Businessman by John H. Johnson with Lerone Bennett Jr. (Amistad Press)

To Be Loved: The Music, The Magic, The Memories of Motown: An Autobiography by Berry Gordy (Warner Books)

Life and Def: Sex, Drugs, Money and God by Russell Simmons and Nelson George (Three Rivers Press)

The History of Black Business in America: Capitalism, Race and Entrepreneurship by Juliet E. K. Walker (MacMillan Library Reference)

In The Black: A History of African Americans on Wall Street by Gregory S. Bell (John Wiley & Sons)

The Billion Dollar BET: Robert Johnson and the Inside Story of Black Entertainment Television by Brett Pulley (John Wiley & Sons)

Success Never Smelled So Sweet: How I Followed My Nose and Found My Passion by Lisa Price and Hilary Beard (One World/Ballantine)

This is just for starters. We at BlackEnterprise.com will add more titles to this list over time, including those suggested by you. I invite you to leave comments here about books on black business that you’d recommend.

Alfred Edmond Jr. is the editor-in-chief of BlackEnterprise.com

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  • Crystal Smith


    I being pulled in the direction of going in business for myself. I just simply do not know where to start. I would love to reach out to preteens and teens to steer them towards not becoming a mother at a young age. I have do some research and I know there is a lot of grant money
    to help but I do not have the skills to write a grant. I have been calling trying to find out someone who is giving free grant writing classes, but have had no luck. I moved back to a small town from Atlanta, GA, and I just see some much I can do with the young people and I just not sure in which direction I should start.

    I have also witness a lack of office and computer skills with young mothers who feel they
    have no other choice but to work at a fast food chain for the rest of their lives. Moving to Atlanta gave me skills I would have never learned
    had I never left Yazoo City, MS. The young people
    in my small town lack skills, positive thinking,hope,self-confidence, and direction.

  • Cassandra Wang

    It would also be helpful if the books geared towards children, tweens and teens could be identified.

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