Every year for the past 52 years, the month of February has been dedicated to celebrating the monumental impact that Black men and women have had on our society. Throughout our history, Black Americans have faced a constant, uphill battle in their arduous efforts to be treated equally, and as we strive to achieve a truly inclusive and diverse society, it is important that we recognize the struggles and injustices that Black Americans have endured. Whether as a real estate professional or a homeowner, Black Americans have been met with walls of segregation and prejudice, which at times, has caused societal paralysis. It has historically been difficult for Black Americans to begin a career in real estate, and those who managed to get their foot in the door found it far more difficult to prosper than their White colleagues did. Despite these barriers, four Black individuals refused to be restricted by their race and paved the way toward a brighter future, making the terrain a little more passable for those who followed.
Antoine Graves, the first Black, licensed REALTOR® in Atlanta, had his real estate offices in the Kimball Building on Wall Street. During his time as a REALTOR®, he brokered the deal for the sale of the land where the Georgia State Capitol now stands. Mr. Graves worked tirelessly to help black Atlantans integrate into residential districts on the West Side. His Atlanta home in the Sweet Auburn area is now a listed-on Airbnb, so locals and visitors can immerse themselves in the history and legacy of Antoine Graves.
Philip Payton, Jr., revered as the “Father of Harlem,” was an ambitious African American real estate entrepreneur that vowed to vanquish housing discrimination in Harlem despite vocal white resistance. After working as a janitor in a real estate office, Payton scraped together the only savings he had to open the first African American-owned real estate brokerage in America. Payton’s aspirations led to the migration of three-quarters of New York City’s Black population to Harlem by the end of his lifetime, including those who would usher in the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s. Though he died in 1917 before he could see his dream fully actualized, Payton is well-known as the pioneer that transformed Harlem into the nexus of African American culture that it is today.
Earvin “Magic” Johnson, beloved as one of the best basketball players of all time, has dedicated his life to demonstrating his leadership ability not just on the court, but also in the community as both a commercial real estate entrepreneur and AIDS awareness advocate. After being forced to retire from the NBA in 1991, the five-time NBA Championship winner and Olympic gold medalist began his second career by opening movie theaters in underprivileged neighborhoods. He went on to form Magic Johnson Enterprises, a billion-dollar conglomerate that focused on improving predominantly Black communities by bringing quality businesses to urban areas. The company invested in a variety of restaurants, health clubs, professional sports teams, and at one point, even owned over 100 Starbucks stores.
W.D. Morrison was the President of the National Association of Real Estate Brokers (NAREB) from 1947-1951.?He led the association in establishing their mission to enhance the economic improvement of its members, the community at large and the minority community which it served.The NAREB has played an influential role developing legislation at the local, state, and federal levels that impacted equal rights, fair housing, and community development. The organization continues to open doors for African American real estate professionals and consumers.?
Graves, Payton, Johnson, and Morrison are only four of the numerous Black Americans that persisted in the face of adversity. While we honor and celebrate those that made headlines or have a place in our history books, it is equally important for us all to recognize that for each Black American mentioned in history, there are many who persevered in silence, enduring a lifetime of injustice. For the silent and unknown and for the pioneers with paragraphs and pages preserved in history, we honor your contributions that inspire all of us towards a greater future.
Sources: History.com, NAREB.com, AtlantaHousing.org, FindAGrave.com