Among a welter of notables making their transitions recently, Earl Graves, Sr., the founder and publisher of Black Enterprise magazine, was a towering pioneer. Distinguished by his mutton chops and his ingenious vision, Graves was a remarkable businessman and civic leader. His publication paved the way and provided a platform for Black entrepreneurs.
Graves died on April 6, according to his son, Earl “Butch” Graves, Jr. He was 85 and for several years suffered from Alzheimer’s.
Graves launched Black Enterprise in 1970 and it gradually grew into one of the major African-American businesses in the nation, a multimedia company with a global significance. His company was a diversified financial power spreading its message “to more than six million African Americans through print, digital, broadcast, and live event platforms,” said Derek T. Dingle, senior vice president and chief content officer at Black Enterprise.
Raised in the Bedford Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, Graves got an early work-ethic indoctrination from his parents and one he continued after receiving his B.A. in economics from Morgan State University. After a two-year stint in the Army, he served as Sen. Robert Kennedy’s administrative assistant. He began his venture into the business realm after Kennedy’s assassination.
The founding of Black Enterprise magazine was a milestone and a blueprint for aspiring African American businessmen and women, and it brought him an enduring prestige and numerous awards, including the National Award of Excellence for his accomplishments in minority business enterprise.
To list the number of organizations and institutions that benefited from his influence would consume this article. But it would be remiss to neglect his being the recipient of the 84th Spingarn Medal from the NAACP in 1999. In an interview with Historymakers, Graves noted that he was named one of the Top 100 Business News Luminaries of the Century, and that his book How to Succeed in Business Without Being White was listed among the New York Times and Wall Street Journal’s Business Best Sellers.
A staunch advocate of higher education, Graves was committed to advancing business education and opportunities for our nation’s youth. He was recognized for his business leadership and community service by the U.S. Department of Commerce, the City of New York and the National Conference for Community and Justice, among others.
“Mr. Graves was a pioneer in the Black publishing industry,” commented Aziz Gueye Adetimirin, publisher of The Network Journal. “From the bottom of my heart I thank him for paving the way for so many of us. Already we miss his vision, strength, and courage. May his soul rest in perfect peace.”
Graves was predeceased by his wife of 37 years, Barbara, with whom he had three sons.
Also, we mourn the passing of songwriter and performer Bill Withers, who died on March 30 in Los Angeles. He was 81. Withers left a corpus of top recordings, including “Just The Two of Us,” “Lovely Day,” “Hello, Like Before,” “Grandma’s Hands,” “Ain’t No Sunshine,” and “Lean On Me,” that during the crisis of the coronavirus pandemic is being prominently reprieved.
Pianist and composer and the patriarch of a musical family, Ellis Marsalis died on April 1. He was 85 and established his own reputation along with his children, most notably Wynton and Branford.
Noted author Grace Edwards, who depicted Harlem with such verve and passion, died on February 25. She was 87 and was widely celebrated for her literary achievements that marked her seven books. Edwards was a member and one time president of the Harlem Writers Guild.