Friday, February 17, 2012

The Black History of Entrepreneurship

  In tribute to Black History we would like to spotlight those African-Americans that were along the first to become entrepreneurs.  These individuals include: Elizabeth Keckly (an African-American fashion designer), Anne Lowe (an African-American fashion designer) and the community known as the Black Wall Street in Tulsa, Oklahoma (an affluently all black-owned community).  There are many more in past and current history that overcame racism, discrimination and prejudice.  Although their skin tone is brown, their struggles are universal; for Black History is every one's history.

  Elizabeth Keckly was one of the first African-American fashion designers that started her own business, despite being born a slave.  In the middle of the 1860's, she went to Washington, D.C. to start a new life.  She had the intention of working as a seamstress, like she had when she lived in St. Louis, MO; but there were obstacles in her way, one of which was a lack of money to purchase a license to stay in D.C. for more than thirty days.  But she overcame that obstacle through one of her clients as a seamstress, a Ms. Ringold. Ms. Ringold used the connection that she had with the City's mayor, James G. Berret.  The petition was granted and at no-charge to Elizabeth.  The license helped Elizabeth to network in order to support herself in D.C. She was a very successful seamstress, with a large portion of her success coming from word-of-mouth promotion.  Due to her networking with white women of high society she eventually was introduced to Mrs. Lincoln, the wife of former President Abraham Lincoln.  Finally, her hard work paid off despite racial inequality.
  A trailblazer in fashion whose name has fallen through the cracks of history is Anne Lowe. Born in Alabama in 1898, Ms. Lowe was the daughter and granddaughter of celebrated seamstresses who were known for sewing for the first ladies of Alabama. Anne’s mother passed away suddenly when Anne was 16, forcing her to complete her mother’s unfinished needlework for the governor’s wife. Anne enrolled in S.T. Taylor Design School in New York. Although she was ignored and avoided by white classmates, she concentrated on her work. Moving to Tampa, Fla., she opened a small studio there, then returned to New York where she worked as a commissioned designer for some of the major houses in the Fashion District. The houses took all the credit, and Anne’s name was never mentioned. She pressed on, and soon she was designer to society’s top families, such as the du Ponts, Roosevelts, Vanderbilts, Rockefellers, and notably, she designed and made the gown actress Olivia de Haviland wore when she received her Oscar for “To Each His Own.”
“Ann Lowe was known as society’s best kept secret…You would have thought her clothing was Parisian couture, but she charged much less to create the same thing. They all went to her for their debutante balls and weddings.” Michael Henry Adams. Anne Lowe’s quiet claim to fame, however, was the wedding gown she designed for Jacqueline Bouvier in 1953, when she married John F. Kennedy. Ms. Lowe was also commissioned to make the 10 pink bridesmaid’s gowns and hats. In an effort to promote Sen. Kennedy’s imminent political career, the wedding received high recognition, the designer’s name was left out of most newspapers. Nina Hyde, social, fashion editor of the Washington Post at the time, stated “… the dress was designed by a Negro, Ann Lowe.” Still going strong in her 70's, she opened a store inside Saks Fifth Ave, then her own salon, Anne Lowe Originals, on Madison Ave, making over 2,000 dresses for New York’s society. She was awarded the Couturier of the Year Plaque and appeared in the National Social Directory and the 1968 Who’s Who of American Women.

  There were other African-Americans that were hated not only for their skin tone but for their success; was an all African-American community called Greenwood. Greenwood was located Tulsa, Oklahoma around 1908 during the era of segregation.  The African-American community was well established with everything from schools and post offices to grocery stores and a newspaper. It was a successful community due to the oil boom of the 1910's, which gave birth to its nickname "the Black Wall Street". The community housed offices of almost all of Tulsa's black lawyers, realtors, doctors and other millionaire business professionals.  Such as Dr. A.C. Jackson, who was said to be a skillful surgeon by one of the Mayo brothers (founders of the Mayo Clinic).  Despite the success of the Black Wall Street, as entrepreneurs during segregation, their neighbors in an all-white communities were jealous of their success and burned down their community, called the Tulsa Race Riot.  Finally, five years after the riot survivors of the burning rebuilt much of the district and it remained vital until the 1950's and 1960"s.


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