As the United States experiences a boom of Black-owned businesses and embraces widespread support of them, it’s time to take a look back on companies that have been around for over a century. Some of these businesses were born out of the need to service the Black Americans when other companies ignored them. Others continue to be super influential in the Black community or their respective industries.
Here are five Black-owned companies from different fields that continue to leave their mark today.
McKissack & McKissack (Founded in 1905)
Moses McKissack III and his brother, Calvin L. McKissack, are the grandsons of a slave, who shared his building skills with his family. Eventually, the brothers would go on start their own architecture firm in Nashville, Tennessee.
The company made history in 1942 when the U.S. awarded it a $5.7 million contract (nearly $90 million today) to build the 99th Pursuit Squadron Airbase in Tuskegee, Alabama. At the time, this was the largest federal contract given to a Black-owned business.
McKissack & McKissack recently celebrated its 100th anniversary of their founders becoming one of the first Black American licensed architects in the country. Today, the company continues to land contracts on renovating and constructing new buildings and add-ons for airports, universities, major cities, museums, hospitals and more.
W.H. Jefferson Funeral Home (Founded in 1894)
Not only is this the oldest Black-owned funeral home in Mississippi, but it may be the oldest in the country. Founded by William H. and Lucy C. Jefferson, The W.H. Jefferson Funeral Home is described as a pillar in Vicksburg’s Black community, according to local newspaper Clarion-Ledger. The current owner, James Jefferson Jr., says it’s also one of the first funeral homes to have two burial insurance companies.
The Philadelphia Tribune (Founded in 1884)
Christopher J. Perry was only 28 when he got into the newspaper business. The Philadelphia Tribune started as a voice for the Black community during a time when they struggled to be heard or even recognized. Perry did everything, from sales to reporting, but his hard work paid off when the publication took off. The Tribune even helped Black Philadelphians find jobs during the Great Depression and expose the racist practices of the New Deal, according to a study looking at the newspaper’s history and influence.
Today, The Philadelphia Tribune has wracked up several awards for its stellar journalism and even publishes other newspapers. They cover global and national events while continuing to report on news important to Black Americans.
NC Mutual (Founded in 1898)
John C. Merrick‘s path to founding one of the oldest Black-owned life insurance companies in the nation is astounding. Born into slavery and later freed after the Civil War, this budding entrepreneur worked as a bricklayer in Raleigh, North Carolina, and later as a barber. Merrick ended up opening several barbershops in Durham and making connections with rich white people.
After securing a loan from a wealthy tobacco industrialist, he started North Carolina Mutual and Provident Association for Black people ignored by other insurance companies at the time. Later rebranded as NC Mutual, the business continues to be a firm part of Durham’s Black Wall Street.
E.E. Ward Moving and Storage (Founded in 1881)
Being the oldest Black-owned business in the entire county, E.E. Ward and Moving survived and thrived through the Reconstruction era, Jim Crow, segregation, and the civil rights movement. It all started with John T. Ward, an Underground Railroad conductor who founded the business with his son, William, in Columbus, Ohio.
The venture sprung from an Underground Railroad stop with just two horses and a wagon. Now it’s a multimillion-dollar, award-winning company led by powerhouse couple Brian and Dominique Brooks. After generations of service, E.E. Ward Moving and Storage became the first Black agent to receive NorthAmerican Van Lines Agent of the Year Award in 2021.
Fun fact: Brian Brooks is the godson of Eldon Ward, John’s great-grandson, according to Black Enterprise. Brooks and his wife took over the business since Ward didn’t have kids to pass on.
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