In 2017, ten of the world’s billionaires (less than one per cent) are black. Compared to last year, their number is down by two. Three out of ten are women. Nine of the ten (except Isabel dos Santos) are billionaires who made their fortune through their own work.
One of the richest black women with the net worth $1.61 billion
The vice president of Nigerian oil company Famfa Oil entered the business world when she launched her own luxury Nigerian fashion label. The 66-year-old billionaire lives in Lagos, Nigeria and has four children. Her son Folarin Alakija recently married Iranian model Nazanin Jafarian Gaisarifar, their wedding took place in England, was very luxurious and many millions of dollars were spent on it.
One of the richest black women with the net worth $3 billion
Oprah, 63, was the only African-American woman to appear on this Forbes list. She went through a difficult childhood and managed to become a world-famous and much-loved media mogul. Although she is involved in philanthropy on a large scale, she also has an enviable lifestyle. This year, she addressed the graduates of Smith College, explaining to them that the secret to success is to benefit others.
The story of Oprah Winfrey, the talented TV presenter who managed to make a multi-billion dollar fortune, is on everyone’s lips today. But what would her fate have been like if she’d been born in 19th-century America?
For an ordinary African-American, succeeding in business after the Civil War between the North and the South was rather problematic, despite the formal freedom and granted rights. It was especially difficult to do so in the former Confederate territory, where harsh racial laws were in effect. It was even more difficult for women, because gender prejudices and restrictions added to racial ones.
Isabel dos Santos
One of the richest black women with the net worth $3.1 billion
She is the richest of the three women on this list and also the youngest black billionaire in the world. The 44-year-old billionaire is the daughter of Jose Eduardo dos Santos, who has been president of Angola since 1979. Her fortune has come from numerous investments, many of which the press has linked to her father, although she says her finances are private and independent.
Earlier in the history: Richest black women in XIX century
Cynthia Hesdra – one of the richest black women in XIX century
At the time of Cynthia Hesdra’s death in 1879, her fortune was estimated at $100,000 (over $2.7 million at current exchange rates) and she owned real estate in New York, Nyack, New York and New Jersey. Remarkably, for the first third of her long life (she was born in 1808) Cynthia was a slave. Her father was John Moore, a businessman who ran several businesses in Rockland County. He owned a mill and also supplied blankets to the Northern army during the Civil War. Cynthia’s mother was a slave named Jane. The future businesswoman was bought out by her husband, Edward Hesdra, who later became her business partner. Incidentally, he himself was mulatto – the son of a white planter and a black woman from Haiti.
Cynthia Hesdra made her fortune in the laundry business. At the same time, she bought up real estate in two states: New York and New Jersey. Having inherited her father’s entrepreneurial talents, she managed her capital very efficiently.
As the businesswoman left no clear will, there was a long and scandalous legal battle over her inheritance. Eventually her entire capital went to her husband Edward Hesdre, who also died shortly afterwards.
Biddy Mason – one of the richest black women in XIX century
Like Cynthia Hesdra, Biddy Mason was a slave in her youth. But she was less fortunate because she was born in the Southern states. Biddy’s childhood, adolescence and youth were spent on plantations. She was intelligent and capable, and quickly learned the basics of pharmacology, obstetrics, and gynecology from the older slave girls. She was able to prepare potions of medicinal herbs and deliver babies under the most difficult conditions. In the 1840s she was sold to the planter Robert Smith.
In 1847, Biddy’s owner, along with his entire family, became Mormon. His slaves were also baptised according to the doctrine. It was then that Robert Smith joined the congregation in their westward march. In 1851, Mormon leader Brigham Young sent a group of settlers to Southern California. Among them was the Smith family along with their slaves. California was a free state at the time and by law, any slave born or living there became a free man.
Biddy and her children had to go to court to have the local authorities confirm that she and her three children were free men. Robert Smith, ignoring local laws, would not let them go free. But the court sided with the woman and in 1860 she received papers guaranteeing her freedom.
After her release, Biddy, who took the surname Mason, settled with her children in Los Angeles. She worked as a nurse and midwife and invested the money she saved in land and real estate. She was the first African-American woman in California to take title to land.
At the time of Biddy Mason’s death in 1891, her fortune was estimated at $250,000 to $300,000 (or $7.7 million to $8.6 million at current exchange rates). She was also renowned as a philanthropist and social activist.
Elizabeth Keckley – one of the richest black women in XIX century
Elizabeth Keckley was born in 1818 to a slave owner and colonel Armistead Burwell, and to his African American slave mother Agnes. Like her mother, Elizabeth was a slave. On several occasions her master (and at the same time her biological father) ordered her daughter to be beaten to a pulp as an example to the other slaves. After his death, Elizabeth’s mistress became the family of her half-sister, Anne Burwell Garland.
Elizabeth, unlike the other slaves, could read and write. She also developed a talent for dressmaking and sewing very early on. She was able to create stunningly beautiful dresses. Very soon she had a very wealthy clientele.
In 1855 Elizabeth bought freedom for herself and her son. The cost was quite high – $1200 (over $33,000 at today’s exchange rate) – but wealthy clients came to her rescue and lent her money. Five years later Elizabeth Keckley moved to Washington DC and set up her own atelier. In her prime years she employed 20 dressmakers.
Among Keckley’s clients were Mary Lee, wife of Robert E. Lee, future Confederate general, and Varina Davis, wife of Jefferson Davis, who became president of the Confederacy. But her main client was certainly Mary Todd Lincoln, wife of Abraham Lincoln. Elizabeth became not just a personal fashion designer, but one of the closest friends of the American president’s wife. She even wrote a book about it, Behind the Scenes: or Thirty Years of Slavery and Four Years in the White House, which will be published in 1868. There is no record of the exact amount of capital Elizabeth Keckley accumulated. She died in 1907 at the age of 89, having lived a colourful and fulfilling life.
Madam CJ Walker – one of the richest black women in XIX century
The life of Sarah Breedlove, better known as Madame C.J. Walker, is the story of the American dream come true. She is the subject of an entire series recently released by Netflix.
She was born in 1867 to a large family of former slaves in Louisiana. Sarah was orphaned early and married off at the age of 14. Six years later her husband was killed in a race riot. Breedlove was left with a two-year-old child and forced to move to St Louis, Missouri, where she took a job as a laundress. Working conditions were oppressive, and very soon Sara’s hair began to fall out. She began searching for a solution to the problem. It took her many years to develop a miracle hair tonic that would make a millionaire of her future fortune.
In 1906, Sarah married Charles Joseph Walker, who later became her business partner and advertising director at Madame C. J. Walker Manufacturing Company. The entrepreneur herself now asked to be called Madame C.J. Walker. The company manufactured cosmetics for African-Americans.
What was innovative was the distribution scheme for the products, namely network marketing. Madame C.J. Walker’s firm had salespeople and brand ambassadors. They travelled around the States, knocking on people’s doors, giving lectures and presentations. The founder herself and her daughter constantly organised training sessions and workshops on hair care. Tens of thousands of women across the country were trained.
At the time of Madame C.J. Walker’s death, her fortune was estimated at $1 million (more than $15 million at today’s rate) and she was not just the first African American woman, but also the first woman who was able to raise such capital herself. Her firm employed between 20,000 and 40,000 people over the years.
Annie Turnbo Malone – one of the richest black women in XIX century
Annie Turnbo Malone’s life story is in many ways similar to that of Madame C.J. Walker. She was the tenth of eleven children in a family of former slaves. Having lost her parents early, Annie studied hard. She developed an aptitude for chemistry and cosmetology. As a young girl she experimented with various skin and hair care products.
In the early 1900s, Malone moved to Brookline, Illinois, where she sold her hair care product, Wonderful Hair Grower. In 1902, she moved to St. Louis, Missouri. There fate brought her together with Madame C.J. Walker, who learned a great deal from Malone.
It was then that cosmetics produced by Annie Turnbaugh Malone had many imitators. The businesswoman decided to make her brand more secure by copyrighting both the name (“Poro”) and the formula.
The business grew. In 1918, Annie founded Poro College, which taught women the basics of cosmetology. It had 200 teachers and more than 75,000 graduates.
The heyday of business came in the “tumultuous twenties,” then estimated the fortune of Annie Turnbo Malone worth $ 14 million (more than $ 200 million in today’s terms).
Sadly, the businesswoman was not able to increase this capital. In 1927, she experienced an extremely traumatic divorce from her second husband, followed by the Great Depression. All these events put a damper on the once-successful business.
Written by Michael Zippo
Michael Zippo, passionate Webmaster and Publisher, stands out for his versatility in online dissemination. Through his blog, he explores topics ranging from celebrity net worth to celebrity net worth. to business dynamics, the economy, and developments in IT and programming. His professional presence on LinkedIn - https://www.linkedin.com/in/michael-zippo-9136441b1/ - is a reflection of his dedication to the industry, while managing platforms such as EmergeSocial.NET and theworldtimes.org highlights his expertise in creating informative and timely content. Involved in significant projects such as python.engineering, Michael offers a unique experience in the digital world, inviting the public to explore the many facets online with him.