Black Fortunes: Book Notes

Mary Ellen Pleasant (used her Gold Rush wealth to further the cause of abolitionist John Brown)

  • Born free and Black

  • Nantucket, MA. Was booming back when whale fat started being used to light up homes. Prime location for whaling on the Atlantic.

  • She lived with the Hussey family. A rich white family. They didn't allow her to learn to read so she did it on the side on the own. She studied people, and Capitalism

  • Charming. When she spoke, people listened.

  • Married a white man last named Smith. He would buy slaves to free them. He soon died. On his death bed, he left her his estate and asked her to use the money to free the slaves.

  • The Cali gold Rush happened. Men were leaving their fams hoping to move to Cali and get rich.

  • San Francisco. Pleasant moved here during the gold rush to invest her money, so she become a money lender. It was good because the men always needed capital aka money. She lended to well connected men at 10% interest a month. Doubled he capital per year.

  • *Gem* One of her greatest strengths was making friends. A great ability to connect with others and made friends everywhere. Great Networker. She knew the right people who knew the right people. Mastered this through studying men and women. "When I have attached myself to one as a friend, I have remained to the end." These relationships helped her start businesses.

  • In 1858, she was worth today's equivalent of (4.2 million) Her success was a mystery. Rumors swirled about voodoo, trading sex for financial advice with rich bachelors, or eves dropping on business convos at dinners that she catered. She said " I have never been given to explaining away lies and you cant explain away the truth."

  • She sounds like a legend to me. She moved in silence. Those who she made her money off of, likely didn't even know she existed. As a black woman, she was used to being overlooked. Moving out west allowed her to make moves in silence. Making plans without drawing more attention to herself than necessary.

  • "The wealthy are never Progressive. They are, by necessity, Conservatives." She sought wealth and sought liberation.

  • She learned about a man named John Brown. He was a preacher that fought against. She wanted to help. Pleasant was still in SF at the time. The rights of minorities in Cali were eroding. California was so prosperous, that it drew a very diverse crowd. Many Blacks, Hispanics, and Asians. White people saw minorities as stealers of white men's jobs and opportunities. Minorities were blamed for the cities crime and forced to live in ghettos, while taxes and legal restrictions against immigrants were made into law. Sound familiar?

  • She ended up helping John Brown by funding his efforts in a militia that helped protect black people. They rescues people from slave catchers in Canada. John moved forward with a raid that was unsuccessful because he was undermanned. He ended up getting caught and eventually executed by hanging. For protection, she went into hiding to figure out her next moves.

  • African Americans were also enslaved by Native Americans in the South and in Oklahoma (land of the red people). They learned from the white folk. Then the white folk kicked them out of the south and they settled in Oklahoma (The trail of tears). The Native Americans fought alongside the confederate because they wanted to keep their slaves. Eventually black people in Oklahoma were emancipated via a treaty.

  • She built a big plantation style compound that pissed white folks off. They called her Mammy Pleasant. Fred sued her after he blew through his dads money, now he was going after Pleasant money.

Annie Turnbo-Malone (who developed the first national brand of hair care products )

  • Orphan and self-taught chemist

  • She was always doing hair. Always dreaming, and always visualizing herself being more than the options available to her. Everyone warned her not to get her hopes up.

  • When black farmers would do well and see success in their field, they faced white people sabotaging their crops or assassination attempts.

  • Her friends who was obsessed with changing her appearance with skin lightning her skin and using hair straightening chemicals with lye, burned half of her hair out. She came to Annie for help. All she wanted was to look "pretty". One day Annie went to an herbalist and learned that their was an herb for damn near everything. Annie asked the herbalist if she had any for hair. The herbalist made a concoction. After a few days her skin began to heal, then her hair began to grow back. That lead her to making hair care recipes to help treat black women suffering from hair loss. Her hair elixir was working. Sulfur removed tissue, Beeswax and Petroleum helped heal chemical burns and moisturize, herbs for faster hair growth. It was a small miracle.

  • During enslavement we were treated like animals, deprived of adequate clothing and soap. The result was a lack of a defined black aesthetic after emancipation. We (black women) would adopt African braiding techniques or hide our hair under scarves and bonnets. Black men cut their own hair. They'd also slick their hair down in an effort to imitate white men. Some would shave off their hair completely and wear straight textured wigs.

  • She concentrated so much on work that she did party for fun. All work, no play.

  • She moved to a new, bigger town. Lovejoy. She hired local women to sell her hair elixir. They vouched for how well it worked. One lady, Sarah Breedlove was a well dressed woman, but her hair had been in bad condition, which is why Annie approached her, and offered to wash and detangle her hair using her products. The two women connected and Sarah began selling Annie's hair care products. She was one of Annie's best sellers. At some point Sarah decided she would move to Denver, CO. Sarah's hair had grown back in and was full and thick. She offered to sell Annie's product down there. It was a good opportunity, so Annie said yes. A few months after her move, her boyfriend from St.Louis, Charles James Walker aka C.J. Walker moved to Denver as well. They soon got married and he convinced Sarah to stop selling Annie's products and they should start their own line. Annie hadn't trademarked the name of the formulas, so she was powerless to stop the copycatting. Sarah is actually Madam C.J Walker. Wow. That's.....interesting. Is she a snake or is it just business?

  • Annie was finding love and enjoying being a millionaire. Madam C. J. Walker's business was struggling and her marriage was on the rocks. She was selling hair products through the mail and franchising beauty salons. It was enough to buy new cars, clothes, and houses, but it had nothing on what Annie was doing. Madam C. J. Walker blamed her husband for her struggling business. He was more worried about fronting than running the business. He would mismanage the money, come up with products that no one would use, and failed to fulfill orders. He drank too much and openly flirted with other women. Sounds like she shouldn't have listened to him. He lead her in the wrong direction. Annie thrived. She could have thrived with her, but she suffered with that terrible husband. Tale as old as time. Lesson learned

  • Madam C. J. Walker couldn't compete with Annie's hair care formulas, but she could compete in marketing. She went to Tuskegee to recruit a high profile business partner. Before she left, she hired a woman to stay and sell her products there. Her name was Dora. A few months later, Dora and Mr Walker started sleeping together, which lead to them plotting on Madam, the same way they did Annie. They planned to steal her recipe and start their own business together. He was a nasty nigga. Madam found out, got mad, and started to divorce him and cut him off financially. Left him with nothing. Dora left him soon after she got the formula and the title of Madam. He realized that Dora used him so he tried to get Sarah back. It never happened. She hoped he would get it together but he killed any chance of reconciliation when he started selling the formula to knock off companies. His bullshit caught up to him. It always does.

  • Meanwhile Annie is still thriving. Got married and put all of her assets in both of their names. Expanded her beauty empire. Opened another headquarters with a college, a greenhouse, a factory, and more.

  • Madam started to transition from hair to real estate. "I'm preparing myself so that when this hair business falls to the ground, I will have an income and I wont have to come down." She was a big spender and flaunted her lifestyle. That's why we treat her like she's the first black millionaire. It made her popular. Other rich people were more quiet and minimalistic. Flaunting her wealth made people ask her for help, thinking she had more than she did.

  • Madam spoiled herself, but didnt take care of her health. She died with half a million. The future of her company depended on her reputation, so a guy named Ranson put out to the media that she was a millionaire. The lie worked temporarily.

  • Annie became consumed with keeping up a rich appearance. Her and Her husband divorced. She had financial troubles, tax troubles, and her company faded away and she died.

Hannah Elias (the mistress of a New York City millionaire, who used the land her lover gave her to build an empire in Harlem)

  • She went to jail for 4 months, when she got out, she tried to go home but her dad was embarrassed and didn't allow her to come home. She found herself in the red light district in the Tenderloin in midtown Manhattan. Controlled by organized crime families who bribed city officials to turn a blind eye to what was going on. The white men got tired of being entertained by white women and they started looking for black girls.

  • Hannah was confident and smart. White men loved her. Including an older guy named Plat. 45 years older than her.

  • In the 1800s, people communicated through ads in the news paper. That's how Plat and Hannah communicated to find each other. They had a secret arrangement where he'd support Hannah financially. He taught her how to make her money last. Plat was married. Even when Hannah married someone else, the arrangement still stood. They'd sneak and see each other when they could. She married a guy named Christopher Smith. When Chris decided he'd had enough of Hannah and Plat's affair he sued Plat for stealing his wife (basically)

  • After the divorce, Hannah moved into a fancy house that Plat paid for her. She had to hide her blackness and connection to Plat. She became a recluse. She sought refuge in books. She found many similarities to herself and Cleopatra. She was the richest black women in the US but couldn't leave her house. She tried everything to escape her blackness. Nothing worked. She was in a beautiful prison.

  • The trials of Hannah Elias: She had Pratt's baby in 1901 and listed her race as white, hoping that her daughter would pass for white. The baby died weeks later. She had no friends, so paid her staff to attend the funeral.

  • An old tenant came to kill her one day but he killed someone else. That lead to the news of Hannah and Pratts affair being outed to his family. They were NOT happy at all with the amount of money he had given her over the years. They forced him to sue her saying that she extorted him. They tried to arrest her and put her in jail. Thousands protested outside of her house. People actually packed lunch to stand outside all day and throw shit at her windows. They brought the kids and everything yall. Eventually they arrested her and charged her with extortion. The crowd in the court room of her arraignment was huge! Platt was a witness. She stared him down the whole time. He didn't lie on her. He didn't help them convict her of extortion. He kept answering all their questions with idk. Case dismissed. Let the "Nigger lover" insults fly.

Ottowa W. Gurley (O.W) Black Wall Street Rises

  • There was an oil boom. Black people from the Deep South came looking for opportunity and to escape lynchings. It was very tough at first because the high paying jobs weren't available to black people and there were still racial tensions.

  • There was a period of time where black, white, Indian, and Jewish people were playing nice because the boom put money in every ones pockets. The "Tulsa Spirit". Naive

  • Ottowa W. Gurley moved to Tulsa and built a grocery store. He also partnered with a man named John the Baptiste Stradford. They shared a distrust for white people and went by their initials to avoid being disrespected by white men calling them by their first name, instead of their last, as if they were boys. Both believed that this harmony (the Tulsa Spirit) was temporary and they built their own all black district. Only available to blacks fleeing lynchings. They named it Greenwood. There were apartments buildings, churches, a nice hotel, unemployment offices, doctors, schools, banks, saloons. It grew and grew as black people migrated to Tulsa (specifically Greenwood) Informal segregation took place. Resentment grew. Tulsa was different from Atlanta because it was a white city. Greenwood was an affluent black enclave where we controlled no political institutions and could rely only on each other to protect themselves. Racial tensions grew as more black people came. They feared a take over. Atlanta had black colleges and many black professionals

  • Greenwood was a equal parts mecca and the wild west. Both men and women carried guns. We were militant. Disputes were settled by fights and bullets. We weren't having any of that racist shit. We fought back. Segregation strengthened Greenwood. They passed laws to keep us out of their neighborhoods so we went to Greenwood and thrived.

  • Greenwood wasnt the richest black town in America. What made it special was that the average black man could go there and make a decent living and have a good life. Oil men w/ money relocated to Tulsa, which resulted in the need for domestics. Maids, chauffeurs, janitors, gardeners,... were making money that was unheard of for them. Greenwood's culture prided itself on education. The story became legend among us.

  • Gurley beat up three white men who went up in his hotel and harassed his wife. We gotta stop thinking that our ancestors weren't with the shits. We were surviving

  • Gurley was in charge of the black people. He was a Sheriffs deputy. His reputation got hurt when he was taking bribes for not arresting black people in Greenwood, but he didn't go to jail. He ended up quitting after he was denied the right to serve a white man with an arrest warrant. He was still rich tho.

  • A white girl lied on a black guy named Roland. She claimed that he had assaulted her in an elevator. White people in Tulsa wanted to lynch Roland. The sheriff wouldn't let them so they were enraged. Tensions were high and an altercation happened when between some black men and white men. Looters came to Greenwood and burned it down. Killing black people as they came outside, or kidnapping them. Gurly sold his land to other black people who stayed and rebuilt.

As an affluent black person in America, one must be prepared for

  • Having the "audacity" to strive for success as a black person, as if we shouldn't do so.

  • Violence from black and white people. The common denominator is jealousy


Things happening today, that where happening in the 1800s

  • Voter suppression

  • Violence against us and sabotage of our businesses/reputations

  • Violence attributed to us, but ignored or covered up when they do it

  • Our come up, being viewed as stealing from what belongs to the white man

  • Laws against immigrants

  • If a black woman is dating a wealthy white man, there are attempts to criminalize her.

  • Feeling out of place when you "make it out" and live in predominately white areas

  • Blacks seeking black owned businesses to give our money to

  • The secret to success is focusing on our needs

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