Earl Graves Sr., Founder Of Black Enterprise, Dies At 85 After Long Battle With Alzheimer’s

Isheka N. Harrison
Written by Isheka N. Harrison
Earl Graves Sr.
Earl Graves Sr., the visionary who created Black Enterprise (BE), died Monday night, April 6 after a long battle with Alzheimer’s Disease. In this photo, Graves poses with his new book “How To Succeed In Business Without Being White” in Times Square in New York, Thursday April 17, 1997. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

Black America has lost another of its founding fathers. Earl Graves Sr. – the visionary who created Black Enterprise (BE) – died Monday night, April 6 after a long battle with Alzheimer’s Disease. He was 85.

Graves’ son, namesake and current Black Enterprise CEO Earl “Butch” Graves Jr. tweeted the news of his father’s passing. He wrote:

“At 9:22pm this evening, April 6, my Father and Hero Earl Graves Sr., the Founder of @blackenterprise, passed away quietly after a long battle with Alzheimer’s. I loved and admired this giant of a man, and am blessed to be his namesake. LOVE YOU DAD!”

The elder Graves launched Black Enterprise in 1970, according to a memoriam story on the site. In his best-selling book “How To Succeed in Business Without Being White,” Graves gave his reasons for starting the legacy publication.

“The time was ripe for a magazine devoted to economic development in the African American community. The publication was committed to the task of educating, inspiring and uplifting its readers. My goal was to show them how to thrive professionally, economically and as proactive, empowered citizens,” Graves wrote.

Born in 1935, Graves was from the Bedford Stuyvesant neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York, affectionately known as ‘Bed-Stuy.’ He attended Morgan State University, where he graduated with an economics degree. After serving in the army and working in real estate and law enforcement, Graves landed a position as the administrative assistant to Robert F. Kennedy, which he held until Kennedy’s assassination in 1968.

Black Enterprise introduced the world to many of today’s most well-respected Black business leaders including billionaires Oprah Winfrey and Bob Johnson.

Eventually Graves diversified the publication into multimedia platforms and live events to keep pace with the times. He also ensured the publication had a solid foundation by founding Earl G. Graves Ltd., the parent corporation of Earl G. Graves Publishing Co.

During his historical career, Graves was also listed in Who’s Who in America; named one of the 10 most outstanding businessmen in the country by President Richard Nixon in 1972; and recognized by TIME magazine as one of the future leaders in the country, according to Crunchbase. He also owned Pepsi-Cola of Washington D.C. for a number of years before selling the franchise back to the corporation.

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Despite being heralded as the “ultimate champion of Black business,” Graves didn’t hesitate to point out he didn’t deserve all the credit for his publication’s continued success. He noted his wife, Barbara Kidd Graves, was by his side the entire time until she preceded him in death in 2012.

“Black Enterprise was just a modest magazine when I founded it—just me, a few brave advertisers like Pepsi, ExxonMobil and General Motors; and a small but spirited staff. And one other person who did just about everything there is to do to put out a magazine—my wife, Barbara,” Graves said.

Very active in politics, civil rights and philanthropy, Graves was instrumental in helping Barack Obama become the first Black president of the United States.

For his years of service and stellar career, he was named the 1999 recipient of the NAACP’s Springarn Medal and inducted into the U.S. Business Hall of Fame in 2007. Graves believed education and the entrepreneurial spirit were critical to success, even for employees.

“To have a successful career, you have to approach it as an entrepreneur, even if you are working for someone else. Your career is your own private business. You have to market yourself and your abilities and knowledge just as you would a product or service,” Graves once said.

Graves is survived by he and Barbara’s three sons, Earl Jr., Johnny and Michael Graves and a slew of family, friends and colleagues.