Obituaries

Earl Graves, founder and publisher of Black Enterprise magazine, has died

By Frederick H. Lowe
Earl Graves Sr., the founder of Black Enterprise magazine, died Monday following a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease, his son Earl “Butch” Graves Jr. announced in a twitter post. Mr. Graves was 85.
Earl Graves Sr., founder of Black Enterprise magazine

“I loved and admired this giant of a man and am blessed to be his namesake. LOVE YOU DAD!” wrote Butch Graves, the current president and CEO of Black Enterprise.

The elder Mr. Graves, who sported mutton chop sideburns, founded Black Enterprise magazine in 1970 to support economic development in the black community, he wrote in his book “How To Succeed in Business Without Being White.”  He borrowed money from the Small Business Administration to launch the publication.
I met Mr. Graves when I was a business writer for the Chicago Sun-Times.
Mr. Graves told me that he and John H. Johnson, founder of Ebony and Jet magazines, would double team companies to persuade them to advertise in the magazines.
Although the publications were successful, most white companies were reluctant to advertise in black-owned magazines, he said.
“I would call him [John] up and say let’s go over and talk to this company,” Mr. Graves said.  It worked, Black Enterprise and Johnson Publishing Co. were very successful businesses.
Mr. Graves was one of the most successful graduates of Morgan State University in Baltimore. Morgan State would later rename its modern glass and triangular-shaped business school the Earl G. Graves School of Business & Management.
After earning a bachelor’s degree in economics, he served two years in the Army before joining the staff of Senator Robert F. Kennedy, who was seeking the Democratic nomination for president when he was assassinated in 1968 following a campaign rally in Los Angeles. He said Kennedy’s murder shook him.
Afterwards, Mr. Graves launched Black Enterprise, the first of many businesses that made him wealthy and more than a face in the crowd.
The businesses included a Pepsi-Cola franchise in Washington D.C. He also was a general partner of Egoli Beverages, L.P., Pepsi-Cola’s franchise bottler in South Africa.  As the business grew, Mr. Graves became president and CEO of Earl Graves, Ltd., parent of the Earl Graves Publishing Company.
Despite the success and wealth bestowed on him, he faced a challenge common to many black people.
When he attempted to sell his home, he told me he had his family stay away.
Although the house was in a desirable neighborhood, whites refused to buy a home if a black family lived there. He and other blacks have told me the same story many times.
Mr. Graves was born January 9, 1935. He was raised in the Bedford Stuyvesant neighborhood of New York City. His parents were Earl Goodwin Graves and Winifred Sealy Graves.
Barbara Graves, Mr. Graves’s wife, died in 2012. He is survived by three sons.
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