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A new book unearths the unsung stories of six African-Americans who escaped slavery and became successful entrepreneurs, the Philadelphia Tribune reported.

Dubbed Black Fortunes: The Story of the First Six African Americans Who Escaped Slavery and Became Millionaires the book—which was penned by author and Morehouse graduate Shomari Wills—delves into the journeys of self-made Black men and women who created businesses in the 19th century and their contributions to changing the face of entrepreneurship.

Amongst those featured in the book include: Annie Turnbo Malone, a chemist who founded the first national hair care product line and hired Madam C.J. Walker to work for her brand; Mary-Ellen Pleasant, a civil rights activist; O.W. Gurley, who is credited for building the foundation of Black Wall Street in Tulsa; Robert Reed Church, who became a prominent landowner in Tennessee after escaping from slavery; and Hannah Ellis, a woman who played an integral role in cultivating a Black community in Harlem. Those six trailblazers were the only African-American millionaires out of 4,047 after the Emancipation. The book explores the racial obstacles that they faced while on their rise to success.

Wills said it was important to bring these narratives to the forefront because there isn’t a lot of accessible information surrounding their legacies. “I was very happy to tell this story in this form because I don’t think I could have told it in another form,” Wills told the Philadelphia Tribune. “It takes place over 100 years and there are only a few photographs of these people, and I have some in the book. I was really happy to do this story in a book and bring it to life that way.”

The legacies of these Black entrepreneurs continue to live on through a new generation of people of color who are creating their own businesses. Last year, two women made Black history by becoming the 15th and 16th African-American women in history to garner $1 million in venture capital funding for their startup.


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