Five Black Leaders in Finance History

Kevin Orsinger |

In honor of Black History Month, we want to share the stories of five Black leaders from finance history. The United States financial system ties its roots to Alexander Hamilton and the founding fathers. However, Black History has roots even in the finance world.

Maggie Lena Walker was the first Black woman to build a bank in the United States. Recognizing that most white-owned institutions weren’t taking deposits from Black people, she started the St. Luke Penny Savings Bank in Richmond, VA in 1903. The bank is still operational today and is the oldest Black-owned bank continuously operated in the US.

O.W. Gurley bought 40 acres of land in Tulsa in 1906 to later become the community known as Black Wall Street. This thriving community included Black-owned law offices, restaurants, theatres, salons, medical offices, banks, and more. The community was one of the prominent places where Black wealth could be built until it was ravaged in the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre.

Ernesta Procope founded the E.G. Bowman insurance company in 1953. In 1979 she moved the business and became the first Black-owned business on Wall Street. The business became the largest minority-owned insurance company in the US and Procope championed for fair insurance coverage for low-income families. 

Clifton Wharton Jr. became one of the first Black CEOs of a Fortune 500 company in 1987 as the leader of TIAA-CREF, which is one of the world’s largest pension funds. Wharton was also the first African American president of Michigan State University and the first African American Deputy Secretary of State.

Reginald F. Lewis built the first Black-owned business to generate over $1 billion in revenue. He was a philanthropist, donating $3 million to Harvard Law School in 1992 and becoming the largest individual donor to the school at that point.

These individuals all have rich histories of overcoming countless adversities. This Black History Month, consider doing a deeper dive to learn more about their role in shaping the finance industry.