It took 179 years after the New York Stock Exchange was established in 1792 for a Black investment firm to take a seat.
And while there were already Black financiers and businessmen such as America’s first Black millionaire, Jeremiah G. Hamilton, who died in 1875, there are others who set the groundwork for today’s generation of Black Wall Street brokers and financiers.
Here are 11 who were among the first to break through on Wall Street.
Thorvald McGregor and Lawrence Lewis: Each of these men is credited from different sources as being the first registered Black securities salesmen. McGregor worked at Mercer Hicks, Lewis for Abraham & Company.
Norman L. McGhee: In 1952, he founded the first Black securities firm, McGhee & Company, which obtained a NASD license.
McGhee: Screenshot of “Black History Month 2021” WKYC via YouTube
Lilla St. John: She was the first Black woman to pass the NYSE exam in 1953 to work for Oppenheimer & Company.
Harry L. Wright: He founded Wall Street’s first Black-owned securities firm, H.L. Wright & Company in 1960. It was located at 99 Wall Street and in the book, “In the Black: A History of African Americans on Wall Street,” author Gregory St. Bell notes that “the building would in the future house notable African American companies such as TLC Beatrice, Daniels & Bell, and would stand next to the offices of E.G. Bowman.” (Bell is the son of the Daniels & Bell founder. See listing below.)
Clarence B. Jones: An attorney who became an allied member of the NYSE when he was named partner at Carter, Berlind, Weill & Levitt in 1967. He was a prominent figure in the Civil Rights movement as Martin Luther King’s advisor and speechwriter — among the speeches he contributed to was “I Have a Dream” — and subsequently left Wall Street to become an editor, contributor to media outlets, consultant and educator.
President Barack Obama with Clarence B. Jones. Pete Souza, White House archives.
Travers J. Bell Jr. and William (Willie) L. Daniels: The duo founded Daniels & Bell in 1971 as the first investment firm on the New York Stock Exchange, which at that time had the reputation for membership based on relationships, rather than qualifications.
Daniels, from Valdosta, Georgia, was hoping to create the first Black-owned member firm on the NYSE. While looking for a business partner, and was continuously turned down, he found Bell, originally from Chicago, who was recommended to him as someone who was in the process of doing the same thing. They joined forces to open the firm.
Travers J. Bell Jr. screenshot CNN “Pinnacle” via YouTube
George E. Johnson Sr.: The first Black-owned company, Johnson Products, to be listed on the American Stock Exchange in 1971. (Johnson also sponsored “Soul Train.”)
George E. Johnson and his wife Joan Johnson on “Soul Train.”
Ernesta G. Procope: She was the founder of E.G. Bowmen & Co, an insurance brokerage, in 1953 in Brooklyn. By 1979, it became the first and largest minority-owned commercial insurance brokerage on Wall Street, when it moved there.
Procope: screenshot “Portrait of a Living Legend” via YouTube
John W. Rogers Jr.: In 1983, founded Ariel Investments, the first Black-owned mutual fund firm in the U.S. It is now also the largest minority-run mutual fund firm. He is the company’s chairman and co-CEO.
Who are the first Black millionaires and billionaires?
Jeremiah Hamilton is credited as the first millionaire, though others often cited are Madame C.J. Walker, William Liedesdorff, Mary Ellen Pleasant and Robert Reed Church. Also of note: Annie Turnbo Malone, who founded Poro College, a cosmetology school. Madame Walker was one of her students.
The first billionaires? Robert L. Johnson, owner of BET, which went public in 1991. After taking it private in 1998, Johnson and his partners then sold it to ViacomCBS VIACA in 2001, making him a billionaire.
Oprah Winfrey is the first Black woman billionaire.
Photo Credits: Top photo: U.S. Sub-Treasury building, where George Washington became president, Wall Street and Trinity Church, New York, Library of Congress.