Oxford AASC: Focus On Black Women Entrepreneurs

Previous Features


Black Women Entrepreneurs

Each month, the editors of the Oxford African American Studies Center provide insights into black history and culture, showing the ways in which the past and present interact by offering socially and historically relevant short articles, picture essays, and links that will guide the reader interested in knowing more. This month we are featuring profiles of African American women who have succeeded in business. From the very beginning of the United States to the present day, these remarkable women personify the talent, hard work, and enterprising spirit that is at the heart of the American experience.

Photo Essay

  • A forerunner of Oprah Winfrey in entertainment entrepreneurship, Eliza Ann Miller was the first woman to build and operate a movie theater in Arkansas. This photograph is from the book How I Succeeded in My Business (1911), by her husband, Rev. A. H. Miller.

    Black Women Entrepreneurs

    It is perhaps unremarkable to say that African American women's participation in business developed slowly since Africans first began arriving in North America in the sixteenth century. However, when one considers the terrible legacy of slavery, the travesty of the Jim Crow era, and the continuing struggle for women's rights, it is striking to note that even before the civil rights movement of the 1960s a number of black women had become successful businesswomen, despite the fact that for centuries the United States had been frustratingly pro-male and pro-white. The earliest African American female entrepreneurs based their businesses around domestic services such as sewing, cooking, or cleaning. In time, though, the possibilities grew to encompass sales of health and beauty aids, investment in real estate, ownership of restaurants and boarding houses, the foundation of banks and other financial institutions, and a host of other endeavors.

    Today African American women are found serving as the CEOs of multimillion dollar corporations, controlling companies that pioneer new exciting technologies, and commanding media empires whose influence spans the globe. These women have reached the heights of success in the business world through hard work and focus, a willingness to innovate and embrace change, and a determination not to be cowed by the obstacles in their path. To honor their achievements, this month the editors of the African American Studies Center present profiles of some women who succeeded in business by really trying.

    View photo essay

Featured Articles

The following articles have been selected to help guide readers who want to learn more about African American participation in business, female entrepreneurship in American history, and the growing presence of black women in the business world. (Access to the following articles is available only to subscribers.)

Subject Entries


Primary Documents