top oldest black owned businesses

15 Oldest Black-Owned Business: Exploring the Hisory of the Oldest Black Owned Businesses

Do you know that Black-owned businesses have been longtime wealth builders for black generations? 


Black-owned businesses operate in various industries, including health and wellness brands, media, construction, banks, restaurants, etc. Supporting more Black-owned companies can help create more opportunities and generational wealth for black communities. 


As the number of Black-owned businesses in the US increases, it is time to consider businesses that have existed for over a century. 


What is a Black-owned business?


According to a US Census Bureau Survey of Business Owners in 2011, Black-owned businesses are “firms in which Blacks or African-Americans own 51 percent or more of the equity, interest, or stock of the business.” A business with Black owners, founders, or leaders is said to be Black-owned.


Top 15 Black-owned Businesses You Should Know


These are some of the oldest Black-owned businesses from different fields.


1:  Atlanta Life Insurance Company


  • Business Type: Insurance
  • Year Founded: 1905
  • Location: Atlanta, Georgia


Atlanta Life Insurance Company’s founder, Alonzo Herndon, was born into slavery in Walton County, Georgia, 1858 and was set free following the Civil War. While his family worked as sharecroppers in Social Circle, some 45 miles east of Atlanta, he began working odd jobs as a young child to help support them. 


He left home at age 20, working as a farmhand and studying barbering, with just $11 in his pocket. He first operated a barbershop in Jonesboro, Georgia, then after moving to Atlanta in 1882, he set up three posh barbershops there.


2: McKissack & McKissack


  • Business Type: Architecture
  • Year Founded: 1905
  • Location: New York City 


Moses McKissack and Calvin McKissack, descendants of slaves, founded an architectural practice in Nashville, Tennessee, in 1905. 


In 1942, McKissack & McKissack set records when the U.S. government gave it the most significant federal contract ever given to a Black-owned business to develop the 99th Pursuit Squadron Airbase in Tuskegee, Alabama, for $5.7 million (about $90 million today). 


Today, McKissack & McKissack has locations nationwide, including Memphis, Philadelphia, Birmingham, Alabama, and Bridgeport, Connecticut. 


3: Mechanics and Farmers Bank

  • Business Type: Bank
  • Year Founded: 1907
  • Location: Durham, North Carolina


Mechanics and Farmers Bank was established by businessman and former slave John Merrick. On “Black Wall Street,” a four-block area of Durham’s Black-owned businesses that grew prosperously during the Jim Crow era, Merrick founded this bank in 1907 with the assistance of six other men: R. B. Fitzgerald, J. A. Dodson, J. R. Hawkins, Aaron M. Moore, W.G. Pearson, James E. Shepard, G. W. Stephens, and Stanford L. Warren. 


4: Davis Brothers Construction Company, Inc.


  • Business Type: Construction
  • Year Founded: 1908
  • Location: Richmond, Virginia


Thornton Davis established the Davis Brothers Construction Company in 1908 and saw it through the First World War and the Great Depression.


5: R.S. Lewis and Sons Funeral Home


  • Business Type: Burial services
  • Year Founded: 1914
  • Location: Memphis, Tennessee


R.S. Lewis and Sons Funeral Home has been in business since 1914. The funeral home is a significant, part of American and civil rights history. 


Martin Luther King’s security detail was provided by this funeral home on his final visit to Memphis.  It was usual for civil rights leaders at the time to obtain anonymous transportation from Black funeral houses, and it was the R.S. Lewis and Sons Funeral Home that gave King a limo whenever he visited the city


Solomon Jones, one of the last people to talk to King and a witness to the murder, was the one who drove him on that tragic day on April 4, 1968. Jones sprang out of the limousine and pursued the murderers in vain. 


King’s body was prepared for the memorial service by R.S. Lewis and Sons, who worked 13 hours nonstop the previous night to close the deceased civil rights activist’s fatal wounds.


6: Citizens Trust Bank


  • Business Type: Bank
  • Year Founded: 1921
  • Location: Atlanta, Georgia


Heman Perry attempted to get a pair of socks fitted in a store in the late 1910s but was turned away because he was Black. This prompted him and the “fervent five,” a group of four other Black men, to establish a bank so that Black people could obtain finance for their businesses. 


Citizens Trust Bank was founded in 1921 by five ardent believers with a $500,000 capital stock. Citizens Trust Bank was the first black-owned bank to join the Federal Reserve Bank in 1948.


7: Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder


  • Business Type: Newspaper
  • Year Founded: 1934
  • Location: Minneapolis, Minnesota


Cecil E. Newman founded the newspaper in 1934 as two different papers: the Minneapolis Spokesman and the St. Paul Recorder (combined and given the current name in 2007). Although it was the Great Depression, Newman was successful, and the journals reached an audience that exceeded 7,000 people.


The Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder is Minnesota’s oldest Black family-owned enterprise. Its photographer, Gordon Parks, is best known for capturing remarkable images of civil rights leaders, essential persons, ns, and regular citizens. Over 1,600 of his images are held at the Library of Congress.


8: Ebony


  • Business Type: Lifestyle magazine
  • Year Founded: 1945
  • Location: Chicago, Illinois


While working for a life insurance company in Chicago, John Harold Johnson, then 24, launched Negro Digest, a magazine similar to “Readers Digest” for Black people. It sold 3,000 copies in its first print and had a monthly circulation of 50,000 within a year.


Seeing this success, Johnson created Ebony, a Black lifestyle magazine, in 1945. It became enormously popular, with its subject moving with the times, from its basic objective of looking at “the zesty side of life” to more political and controversial topics during the 1960s. 


Like many other publications in the digital age, Ebony has transitioned from print to an online publication. However, hundreds of Ebony magazines have been digitized from the 1950s to the 2000s and are freely available on Google Books. 


9: Arnette’s


  • Business Type: Barbershop
  • Year Founded: 1945
  • Location: Carbondale, Illinois


Arnette’s has been in business for 75 years and was founded by Charles Arnette. Kent Mason now owns the property. Mason considered Charles to be a father figure, and after Arnette died, Mason purchased the barbershop from his wife for $15,000. 


Mason now educates aspiring young barbers in the same way that Charles used to and even cuts some clients’ hair for free if they cannot pay.


10: Bronner Brothers


  • Location: Atlanta, Georgia
  • Business Type: Beauty products
  • Year Founded: 1947


Bronner Brothers started small, but today, Bronner Brother is one of the largest Black-owned beauty products companies in the United States. Dr. Nathaniel H. Bronner Sr. and his brother, Arthur E. Bronner, founded the business in 1947. 


The brothers and their sister Emma taught cosmetologists at an Atlanta YMCA. This expanded into a convention with a growing number of attendees. The International Beauty Show is held twice yearly and draws over 40,000 attendees, including speakers like Beyonce.


11: KPRS


  • Business Type: Media
  • Year Founded: 1950
  • Location: Kansas City, Missouri 


KPRS is “the first African-American-owned radio station in Kansas City west of the Mississippi.” Andrew Skip Carter, who received his engineering license from the FCC in 1947 but struggled to secure a location for his ideal radio station that played Black music by Black performers due to his skin color, launched the station.  


In a letter to the FCC, Carter spoke about the bigotry he encountered in the radio business. Alf Landon, a former governor of Kansas and owner of multiple radio stations, read that letter. Landon offered Carter a transmitter so he could launch KPRS and assisted him in getting his FCC license.


The radio station became the first Black-owned one in the nation when Carter and his family acquired ownership of it in 1969.


12: Willie Mae’s Scotch House


  • Business Type: Restaurant
  • Year Founded: 1957
  • Location: New Orleans, Louisiana


The company’s founder, Willie Mae Seaton, moved to New Orleans during World War II and spent years working as a dry cleaner, beautician, and cab driver while her husband was employed at the Higgins Shipyard. She opened Willie Mae’s Scotch House in 1957, which featured a little kitchen. 


She wanted to maintain the reputation of Seaton’s fried chicken as a favorite among the locals. She refused to let the Times-Picayune print her picture or the restaurant’s address in 1999. Seaton didn’t start to welcome attention until after Hurricane Katrina, and Willie Mae’s gained international recognition for its fried chicken.


In 2015, Seaton passed away at the age of 99. Kerry Seaton Stewart, her granddaughter, now oversees operations at Willie Mae’s.


13: Hakim’s Bookstore


  • Business Type: Bookstore
  • Year Founded: 1959
  • Location: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania


Dawud Kaim established Hakim’s Bookstore and filled it with texts on Islamic culture, holistic health, and Black history and culture. As a result, Hakim’s Bookstore developed into a haven for people hunting for rare books that weren’t available at bookstores owned by white people. 


Hakim died of cancer at the age of 65 in 1997. Now managed by his children, the bookstore is still at 210 S 52nd Street in Philadelphia.


14: Dorsey’s Art Gallery


  • Business Type: Art
  • Year Founded: 1970
  • Location: Brooklyn, New York


Dorsey’s Art Gallery is New York City’s oldest Black-owned art gallery. Lawerence Peter Dorsey, a great framer who acquired his trade from an old proprietor of an art framing company, started the gallery. The owner sold his company to Dorsey in 1970. Dorsey sponsored Black artists and conducted art shows at his gallery until he died in 2007 at 88. The gallery continues to serve the art community in New York.


15: Beauchamp Distributing Company


  • Business Type: Distribution
  • Year Founded: 1971
  • Location: Compton, California


Beauchamp Distributing Company was the country’s first Black-owned Miller Brewing Company distributor. It began with seven employees and 300 accounts. It now employs over 100 people and serves over 3,000 customers.


After the Watts riots in 1965, Miller decided to grant Patrick Beauchamp its distributorship to demonstrate its support for Black people and to appeal to inner-city minorities.




Most of these businesses were born out of the need to service Black Americans when other companies ignored them.  According to recent census data, there are 3.12 million Black-owned firms in the United States, generating $206 billion in annual revenue and supporting 3.56 million US jobs. 


That’s millions of people serving community needs and creating jobs for people from all walks of life, and they deserve to be recognized and encouraged.

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