Long before the civil rights movement of the 20th century, Black Americans were breaking down barriers in business, journalism, education and activism. Though faced with immense discrimination and hardship, these pioneers achieved notable firsts and paved the way for future generations. By celebrating their diverse achievements, we honor the creativity, determination and vision of these early African American pioneers. Their stories deserve to be told and celebrated.
Joseph Randolph (1768-1825) and the African Insurance Company
A prominent businessman and community leader, Joseph Randolph demonstrates early Black excellence in pioneering finance and insurance. Born free in Virginia, Randolph later settled in Philadelphia and co-founded the Free African Society, a mutual aid organization for free Blacks.
Seeing a need for Black citizens to have control over their money, Randolph founded the African Insurance Company in 1810. This was the first insurance company founded by an African American, 47 years before the American Life Insurance Company became the first Black-owned insurance firm chartered in the South.
Randolph served as the President of the company, which provided fire and life insurance policies within Philadelphia's free Black community. His sons also became leaders in finance and civil rights, carrying on Randolph's legacy of entrepreneurship, innovation and community empowerment.
David Ruggles (1810-1849): Abolitionist, Entrepreneur and Publisher
A key figure in the Underground Railroad, David Ruggles was instrumental in the liberation of hundreds of enslaved persons. Born in Connecticut, Ruggles became actively involved in abolitionism and operated a small grocery store in New York City.
This store doubled as a hub for escaped slaves, whom Ruggles assisted with shelter, food, clothing and transport further north. Highly organized and meticulous, he kept detailed records of the nearly 600 individuals he helped to freedom. Ruggles also founded an employment agency and was the first Black bookstore owner when he opened his Mirror of Liberty bookstore.
Alongside his abolitionism and businesses, Ruggles edited and published The Mirror of Liberty newspaper, one of the earliest Black-owned and operated newspapers. Suffering poor health and blindness in his forties, Ruggles retired from activism but left an important legacy in the antislavery movement and African American entrepreneurship.
Mary Ann Shadd Cary (1823-1893): Activist and First Black Woman Publisher
Born to abolitionist parents, Mary Ann Shadd Cary stands out as a pioneering activist, teacher, lawyer and journalist. After teaching in her home state of Delaware, where education for free Blacks was restricted, Cary moved to Canada and began a teaching career there. She quickly became an advocate for civil rights and suffrage, writing and speaking on abolitionism and racial inequality.
Cary founded The Provincial Freeman newspaper in 1853, becoming the first Black woman publisher in North America. The newspaper provided an important platform to voice anti-slavery views, promote Black Settlement in Canada and document the experiences of Black people in the Americas. Cary edited The Provincial Freeman until 1860, balancing her work with continuing efforts supporting education and woman's rights.
After the Civil War, Cary returned to the United States, attending Howard University Law School and becoming one of the first Black female lawyers in the country. She worked tirelessly throughout her long career to open doors for African Americans and women through her writing, activism and pioneering professional roles.
Sarah E. Goode (1850-1905): Inventor and Patent Holder
Sarah E. Goode gained her freedom following Emancipation and became a pioneer in business and invention. Operating a furniture store in Chicago with her husband Archibald, Goode saw a need for space-saving furniture to accommodate the cramped living quarters of city-dwellers.
She invented a cabinet bed that folded up against the wall, including storage space and a pop-up desk. Goode was granted a patent for the invention on July 14, 1885, becoming the first African American woman to hold a U.S. patent. Her clever furniture design enabled tenants to transform small apartments into usable spaces, while providing her a source of income and recognition for her talent.
Goode used her success to become an advocate for African American and women's rights. She was active in her community, forming a local club for Black women and speaking on civil rights issues. Sarah E. Goode stands out as an early example of female ingenuity and entrepreneurship.
Though faced with legalized discrimination and prejudice, these groundbreaking African Americans achieved monumental accomplishments in business, activism, education and media. From pioneering professions to establishing successful enterprises, they paved the way for future generations of Black entrepreneurs, inventors, journalists and change-makers.
#BlackHistoryMonth2024 #BlackAchievement #SeraileBrandingIQ #FractionalCMO #BlackPioneers #BlackEntrepreneurs
November is Native American Heritage Month, a time to celebrate and recognize the contributions of Native peoples to the United States. First declared by President H.W. Bush in 1990, this commemoration recognizes the 574 federally recognized Tribal Nations that continue shaping America.
Let's take a look at some of the key developments in Native American business, politics, and culture over the last few years.
Hispanic Heritage Month, observed from September 15th to October 15th, honors the culture, experiences, and contributions of Hispanic and Latinx Americans. This year, organizations can make Hispanic Heritage Month more than a celebration – it can become a call to action to better support the thriving, but still underrepresented Hispanic business community.
Hispanic-owned businesses now account for over 5% of all U.S. firms, employing more than 3 million people and generating $500 billion in revenue. From 2012 to 2022, the number of Hispanic-owned businesses grew at more than three times the national average rate. But Hispanic entrepreneurs still face obstacles in accessing capital, contracting opportunities, and equitable representation across industries.
Here are some ideas for how businesses can step up during Hispanic Heritage Month 2023:
Hispanic Heritage Month is the optimal time to re-evaluate business relationships and purchasing behavior through an equity lens. Because supporting Hispanic-owned companies is not only a moral imperative, but an economic one – it’s good for business, community, and the nation’s prosperity as a whole. Equity in entrepreneurship lifts us all.
#HispanicHeritageMonth #LatinxHeritageMonth #HispanicBusiness #LatinxBusiness
August marks Black Business Month, a time to recognize and celebrate the contributions and achievements of Black entrepreneurs and business owners. This annual observance originated in 2004 when John William Templeton, founder of the National Black Business Trade Association, declared the month as a way to drive the policy agenda impacting the 2.6 million Black-owned businesses in America. Nearly two decades later, Black Business Month continues to highlight the tremendous progress Black entrepreneurs have made, while also underscoring the ongoing challenges they face.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau's Annual Business Survey, the number of Black-owned employer businesses increased by 26% from 2012 to 2021. And research shows that supporting these businesses boosts the economy overall. A 2021 McKinsey study found that achieving racial equity in business could add $5 trillion to U.S. GDP by 2030.
So how can business leaders maximize Black Business Month 2023? Here are a few ideas:
Fostering an environment where Black businesses have equitable access to financial, educational, and community resources will benefit the economy as a whole. Black Business Month serves as a reminder of the vital role these entrepreneurs play and the potential they hold to reshape industries, spark innovation, and build generational wealth, if given the chance to fully and fairly compete. Equity in entrepreneurship benefits everyone.
As we face record-setting temperatures across the globe this summer, organizations large and small will be challenged address the impacts of climate change and environmental degradation on their business growth trajectories. Today’s youth, Generation Z, are deeply concerned about climate change and environmental protection. This cohort represents $143 billion in spending power and bring eco-conscious values to their purchasing decisions and brand affiliations.
For C-suite leaders and small business owners, developing an authentic sustainability strategy is crucial for earning Gen Z’s long-term trust and loyalty. Superficial greenwashing won’t suffice. You must approach sustainability substantively, and with accountability. Here are three best practices for integrating sustainability in a way that resonates with Generation Z:
1.Set Ambitious Corporate Climate Goals
Analyze your carbon footprint across operations. Establish targets for waste and emissions reductions aligned to climate science, then enlist all business units in creating action plans.
Join industry coalitions pursuing net zero commitments. Advocate for climate policies and renewable energy – locally and globally. Demonstrate systematic commitment by reporting progress transparently.
2.Embed Sustainability Across the Brand
Infuse eco-messaging consistently through marketing touchpoints - packaging, advertising, social media, website, partnership. Feature diverse voices and support local communities.
Make sustainable options the default for customers by innovating to eliminate waste throughout the supply chain. Investigate circular production models.
3.Walk the Walk Inside Your Own Walls
Before engaging externally, evaluate internal sustainability practices. Provide climate education for all employees, not just operations or manufacturing teams. Set green office/plant policies limiting waste, energy use and resources.
Incentivize sustainable employee commutes through public transit and car-pooling credits. And remote work has been found to significantly reduce pollution, energy use and traffic.
The Bottom Line
For Generation Z, commitment to sustainability can be a make-or-break factor in purchasing and employment decisions. With courage and accountability, climate-driven business practices will generate resilience, innovation, and affinity with the next generation. By dedicating focus and resources to environmental issues, businesses can help strengthen society while future-proofing their brand relevance.
Check out this informative and inspiring collection of video programs about the history and contributions of Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders and Native Hawaiians - available via your local PBS station. Programs range from documentaries about political leaders and social movements, family stories of immigration and migration, generations uniting around shared recipes, newcomers and long-time citizens building businesses and communities.
What better way to honor the contributions of American women than through the The American Women Quarters Program. This four-year program celebrates the accomplishments and contributions made by women of the United States. Beginning in 2022, and continuing through 2025, the U.S. Mint will issue up to five new reverse designs each year. The honorees for 2023:
Ever wonder how Black History Month came to be? Learn more about the history of Black History Month in this informative article.
Cheryl A. Seraile is an Omni-channel Marketing & Strategy Maven, with a passion for uncovering new trends and insights about consumers, demographics, culture and the world.