History lesson

Recognizing African-American career leaders

Posted: Sunday, February 25, 2007

Black History Month is not just about highlighting current accomplishments in the African-American community; it is a chance to celebrate historical black figures who broke new career ground for the leaders of today.

Historical black figures serve as symbols of greatness at work. Let's pay homage to just a few of our nation's greatest achievers:

Bessie Coleman: World's first black female aviator (1921)

Earning her international pilot's license in France from the highly respected Federation Aeronautique International in 1921 - two years prior to Amelia Earhart - Coleman appropriately earned her nickname "Queen Bess" after soaring, barnstorming and parachuting around the United States. She planned to open an aviation school to train other blacks to fly, however, Coleman tragically died during an exhibition accident in 1926.

A. Phillip Randolph: Organized the March on Washington movement (1941)

The March on Washington movement in 1941, which was organized by Randolph, forced the U.S. government to create the Fair Employment Practices Committee - a federal executive order requiring companies with government contracts to not discriminate on the basis of race or religion. This was the impetus for the equal opportunity employment laws that businesses now follow.

John H. Johnson: First to appear on the Forbes 400 Rich List (1982)

After briefly attending the University of Chicago and Northwestern University, Johnson began The Negro Digest, a precursor to today's Ebony magazine. Founder of the Johnson Publishing Company, an international media and cosmetics empire in Chicago, which creates Ebony and Jet magazines, and Fashion Fair and Ebony Fashion Fair cosmetics, Johnson had a fortune estimated to be nearly $500 million. Johnson's firm is the largest black-owned publishing company in the United States.

H. Naylor Fitzhugh: Creator of the target-marketing concept in corporate America (1965)

Fitzhugh won a scholarship to Harvard College at the age of 16 and became one of only four blacks in a class of 1,000 students. Later, he earned an MBA at Harvard Business School, becoming one of the first blacks to do so. In 1965, Fitzhugh accepted a marketing position at Pepsi-Cola Inc. that spurred a momentous event in business history. The creation of what is now a widely used concept of target marketing also allowed him to establish the black community as a lucrative mass market, thus changing the face of marketing forever.

Clifton Wharton: Headed Fortune 100 company (1987)

As CEO of TIAA-CREF, the largest private pension program in the United States, Wharton broke ground as being both the first chief executive of a large company and the highest-paid black executive in the country.

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