Each February for more than 40 years, our country has proudly come together to celebrate the rich heritage and significant contributions of African Americans during Black History Month. This month represents a time to reflect on the accomplishments of great leaders and innovators — the teachers, lawmakers, scientists, and entrepreneurs, who overcame significant barriers and helped to shape modern society for the better.
Many household brands and iconic American businesses were founded by trailblazing Black innovators. In 1821, Thomas Jennings became the first African American patent holder in the United States, and we have him to thank for modern-day dry cleaning technology.
The first self-made female millionaire, Madam C.J. Walker, created a hair-care line in 1906. Johnson Products became the first Black-owned business on the American Stock Exchange in 1971. In 1999, Franklin D. Raines became the first Black CEO of a Fortune 500 company, Fannie Mae. And Oprah Winfrey, who broke the glass ceiling after facing much adversity to pave the way for Black television personalities, became the first African American female U.S. billionaire in 2003.
Our history is long and is still being made. We have much to be proud of as a community, but there are still challenges that must be overcome for Black-owned businesses.
In 2020, our nation underwent a long-overdue national reckoning over issues of race and social justice. The country — for the most part — came together to recognize the racial disparities that continue to exist in the United States. For centuries, Black Americans have fought for equality, including the right — and opportunity — to own and operate a business in America.
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