Oxford AASC: Photo Essay

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African Americans in Chicago

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Chicago_7

Business Magnate Anthony Overton and the Overton Buildings

Business magnate Anthony Overton constructed two buildings that anchored Black Chicago's famed "Black Wall Street" from the 1920s through the 1960s. These structures are still located in the 3600 blocks of South State Street. His Overton Building, built in 1923, housed the Hygienic Manufacturing Company, the Douglass National Bank (only the second nationally chartered black-owned bank in the United States), the Great Northern Realty Company and the Victory Life Insurance Company. By 1925, the Chicago Bee newspaper was being published, housed in its own building approximately 100 feet away. Unique along State Street because of its Art Deco architecture, the Bee Building also featured a woman as one of its managing editors. Anthony Overton arrived in Chicago with his immediate family and business operation from Kansas City, Kansas in 1911 with a dream of building a financial empire. His Hygienic Manufacturing Company featured the nationally known High Brown Face Powder, which was "the first market success in the sale of cosmetics for black women." When he arrived in Chicago, his company already had well-developed markets throughout the United States, and internationally in Egypt, Liberia, and Japan. The number of door-to-door representatives approached 500, each selling a line of 60 products. The catalog included not only cosmetics and perfumes, but also other household products ranging from shoe polish to cooking ingredients, extracts, and, of course, Overton's original baking powder. Following the move to Chicago, the growth of his company was exponential: between 1915 and 1927, the assets of the company quadrupling from $250,000 to more than one million dollars. The company was eventually listed by Dun & Bradstreet. Many awards and honors followed, but Overton is to be especially credited for expanding employment opportunities for women by freeing them from low-paying domestic work, so they could work as self-employed contractors.

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