Black History Makers: Earl G. Graves, Sr.

January 9, 1935 - April 6, 2020

Earl G. Graves Sr. was the founder and publisher of Black Enterprise magazine and a nationally recognized authority on black business development. Born January 9, 1935, Graves was raised in the Bedford Stuyvesant section of New York, where he learned hard work and perseverance from his parents, Earl Godwin and Winifred Sealy Graves. His mother led many community activities, and his father was the assistant manager of the Overland Garment Company, an apparel firm in New York City.

A graduate of Morgan State University, Graves earned a B.A. in economics in 1958. While attending college he joined Omega Psi Phi Fraternity and was in the ROTC. After college Graves served two years in the U.S. Army where he became a captain in the Green Beret unit. He then had a three year stint as Senator Robert F. Kennedy’s administrative assistant. After Kennedy’s assassination Graves entered the business arena, where he was to realize unprecedented success. 

In search of a new venture, Graves joined the advisory board of the Small Business Administration. His experience on the board led Graves to start an annual newsletter that addressed key issues affecting black businesspeople and highlighted the power of black capitalism.

With a loan from the SBA, in 1970 Graves helped transform the newsletter into Black Enterprise magazine. It was a hit from its first year and became profitable after just 10 issues. The magazine became known for its ranking of the top black-owned companies by revenue. The listing expanded as the number of black-owned businesses grew and their revenues increased; it’s now divided by industry. The magazine also publishes statistical information on Fortune 500 and other companies that are favorable places for black professionals to work. 

Since founding Black Enterprise Magazine Earl Graves has been named one of the ten most outstanding minority businessmen in the country by the President of the United States, and received the National Award of Excellence in recognition of his achievements in minority business enterprise. Black Enterprise Magazine is recognized as the definitive resource for African American business professionals, entrepreneurs and policy makers in the public and private sectors.

Graves also launched Earl G. Graves Ltd., which would become a parent company with various units in addition to the publishing division—including management consulting, marketing, radio, television and event coordinating. He also served as Chairman and CEO of Pepsi-Cola of Washington, D.C., L.P., the largest minority-controlled Pepsi-Cola franchise in the U.S. He is also a General Partner of Egoli Beverages, L.P., the Pepsi-Cola franchise bottler of South Africa.

Graves and his wife Barbara, whom he married in 1960, had three sons—all of whom have worked at his eponymous firm (including Earl G. Graves, Jr., who became president and CEO of Earl G. Graves Publishing Co.). The parent company is also co-owner of the private equity fund Black Enterprise Greenwich Street Corporate Growth Fund, which invests in and markets established minority-owned or -managed businesses.

In 1995 his alma mater, Morgan State University, renamed its business school the Earl G. Graves School of Business and Management. Graves is also the recipient of the 84th NAACP Spingarn Medal, the highest achievement award for African Americans. He was named one of the Top 100 Business News Luminaries of the Century, and his book “How to Succeed in Business Without Being White” was listed among the New York Times and Wall Street Journals Business Best Sellers. He was also appointed by the administration of President George W. Bush to serve on the Presidential Commission for the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

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