Caribbean American Black Enterprise Magazine Founder Dead At 85

FLASH BACK- Earl Graves Sr. on April 29, 2004. (Photo by Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
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By NAN Staff Writer

NEW YORK, NY,Weds. April 8, 2020: The Caribbean American who founded the first black-owned magazine focused on black entrepreneurs is no more.

Earl Graves Sr., the son of Barbadian Americans, passed away on April 6 after a battle with Alzheimer’s disease, according to his son, Earl “Butch” Graves Jr,. He was 85.

Graves, Sr., was born in the in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, New York to Earl Godwin, a garment industry shipping clerk, and Winifred (Sealy) Graves who was a homemaker. His parents were both born to Bajan immigrant parents.

Graves., Sr. graduated from Erasmus High School, where he was a track star, and used his athletic skills to help with tuition by also working as a lifeguard while attending Morgan State University as a scholarship student. He received a Bachelor of Arts degree in economics in 1958 from Morgan State University.

After writing a letter to the Democratic National Committee in the 1960’s, he became a volunteer for the 1964 presidential campaign of Lyndon B. Johnson. His work with the party gave Graves the opportunity to serve as administrative assistant to newly elected Senator Robert F. Kennedy in 1965. Following the assassination of the senator, Graves landed a seat on the advisory board of the Small Business Administration (SBA) in 1968.

It was at the SBA that he created an annual newsletter that would chronicle issues relevant to black business-people and raise awareness of the importance of black consumer power. At the suggestion of then SBA Director Howard J. Samuels, Graves expanded the concept of a newsletter into a full-fledged magazine.

Graves started Earl G. Graves, Ltd, and under that holding company he began the Earl G. Graves Associates management consulting firm. In August 1970, the first issue of Black Enterprise magazine hit newsstands. Earl G. Graves, Ltd.l later grew to include a number of divisions including publishing, marketing, radio, television and event coordinating arms.

The firm is also the co-owner of the private equity fund Black Enterprise Greenwich Street Corporate Growth Fund, an equity partnership formed with Travelers Group, Inc., to invest and promote minority operated businesses.

Graves had always been vocal on the subject of racial discrimination in business. In 1990 he praised the United Way of his hometown, Scarsdale, New York, for moving their kick-off dinner from a club that traditionally excluded blacks from membership. In a speech quoted by James Ferron in the New York Times Graves stated that the United Way’s action sent “an important signal of equal opportunity,” and that a primary cause of human suffering was the “lack of equal economic opportunity in our minority communities.”

He later commented to Ferron on racial bias: “It is a national problem … and the point I was making in this speech is that if there were jobs, people would not have some of the problems they have. If they had equal opportunity, quality schools, all of the above, then people would not have time to get sidetracked by those things that are detrimental to their well-being.”

During the span of his business and professional careers, Graves  received numerous awards and honors for his outstanding business leadership and community service. In 1998, he received the Marietta Tree Award for Public Service from the Citizens Committee for New York City, Inc.; the Charles Evans Hughes Gold Medal Award from The National Conference for Community and Justice; the Ronald H. Brown Leadership Award from the U.S. Department of Commerce; and the Merrick-Moore Spaulding National Achievement Award at the 100th Anniversary celebration of North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company, among others. In 1995, he was named New York City Entrepreneur of the Year by Ernst & Young, and was also inducted into the National Sales Hall of Fame by the Association of Sales and Marketing Executives. Other awards include the Dow Jones & Company Award for Entrepreneurial Excellence in 1992; the 1991 “Free Enterprise Award” from the International Franchise Association; and the New York State Regents Medal of Excellence.

In 1999, he received the 84th NAACP Spingarn Medal, the highest achievement award for African Americans and was named one of the Top 100 Business News Luminaries of the Century by TJFR, a publication that covers business journalism. In that same year, he also received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Caribbean Tourism Organization. Graves was appointed by the administration of George W. Bush to serve on the Presidential Commission for the National Museum of African American History and Culture. On April 26, 2007, Earl G. Graves Sr. was inducted into the Junior Achievement U.S. Business Hall of Fame. In 2009, he became the recipient of the 2009 NCAA Silver Anniversary Award.

In his honor, Morgan State University’s business school is named the ‘Earl G. Graves School of Business and Management.’ His book, ‘How to Succeed in Business Without Being White: Straight Talk on Making it in America,’ was released in 1998. He was a member of the National Black College Hall of Fame and has also lectured at Yale University as a Poynter Fellow.

Graves, Sr. is survived by his children Earl G. Graves Jr., Johnny Graves and Michael Graves. His wife Barbara preceded him in death in 2012.