Sarah Breedlove McWilliams Walker, best known as Madam C.J. Walker (1867–1919), became the first self-made black woman millionaire. In 1904, she founded the Madam C.J. Walker Manufacturing Company, starting the first black cosmetics company with less than two dollars and an original formula for straightening hair. That formula, she said, was revealed to her in a dream by an African man. Born in Delta, Louisiana, to sharecroppers who had been enslaved before emancipation, she moved to St.
People Involved in Philanthropy
In the early nineteenth century, Cato Gardner, a native of Africa, raised more than $1,500 toward the $7,700 needed to build the African Meeting House at number 8 Smith Court in Boston. An inscription above the door of the building, which still stands today, reads: “Cato Gardner, first Promoter of this Building, 1806.”
Dikembe Mutombo Mpolondo Mukamba Jean-Jacque Wamutombo is the full name of former professional basketball player Dikembe Mutombo (1966– ), who played 18 seasons in the National Basketball Association. He was selected to the NBA All-Star Team eight times and was named NBA Defensive Player of the Year four times. In 2015, he was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. Born in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo, he speaks four western languages and five Central African dialects.
Mississippi sharecropper Fannie Lou Hamer (1917–1977), born Fannie Lou Townsend in Ruleville, Mississippi, was jailed and beaten for demanding her rights. An inspiring figure of the civil rights movement and a founder of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, she worked for voters rights and to desegregate the Mississippi Democratic Party.
Garrett Augustus Morgan (1877–1963), born in Paris, Kentucky, and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio, was a prolific inventor, although he had only an elementary school education. Before he invented and patented the first traffic light in 1923, a policeman sat in a tower at an intersection, manually operating stop-and-go signals. Garrett’s traffic light saved lives, just as the gas mask he invented in 1916 saved lives during World War I. He sold his first invention—an improvement on the sewing machine—for $150.
Track and field athlete Rochelle Stevens (1966– ), born in Memphis, Tennessee, won the Olympic silver medal for the 4x400-meter relay at the 1992 Barcelona Games and, with her teammates, reached the top at the 1996 Atlanta games, winning a gold medal for the same event. For her success as a track and field athlete, she has received additional honors: An honorary street in Memphis bears her name, Olympian Rochelle Stevens Avenue, and the outdoor track at Morgan State University in Baltimore, Maryland, is now the Rochelle Stevens Track.
In 1890, it is believed, Thomy Lafon (1810–1893), a real estate speculator and money lender in New Orleans, Louisiana, became the first black millionaire in the United States. Known also for his philanthropy, he generously supported several religious and charitable organizations, including the Catholic Institute for the Care of Orphans, the Religious Order of the Holy Family, the Little Sisters of the Poor, the American Anti-Slavery Society, the Underground Railroad, New Orleans University, and the Lafon Old Folks Home.
Tennis star Zina Lynna Garrison-Jackson (1963– ), born in Houston, Texas, kept heads turning when she stepped onto the court. At the 1988 Seoul games, she won two Olympic medals: a bronze for singles and a gold for doubles (with Pam Shriver), bringing the U.S. Olympic tennis team its first gold medal in sixty-four years. In professional tennis, she won seven U.S. Tennis association junior titles—more than any other black player at that time.