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Feb 6: Black History Maker, Earl G. Graves

Earl G. Graves is a philanthropist, author, publisher and founder of Black Enterprise Magazine.
Earl G. Graves
Earl G. Graves is a philanthropist, author, publisher and founder of Black Enterprise Magazine. Photo credit: Zimbio

Earl G. Graves was born on January 9, 1935, in Brooklyn and raised in Bedford Stuyvesant, where he learned hard work and perseverance from his parents, Earl Goodwin and Winnaford Colette Sealy Graves.

Graves attended Morgan State University, where he became a member of Omega Psi Phi fraternity and received a Bachelor of Arts degree in economics in 1958. After writing a letter to the Democratic National Committee, 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 in 1968.

In 1970, he founded Black Enterprise Magazine--a business-service publication targeted to black professionals, executives, entrepreneurs and policy makers in the public and private sector.

It has been profitable since its tenth issue and yearly sales (currently over $53 million) are steadily increasing. Black Enterprise has a paid circulation of 475,000 with a readership of more than 4.1 million. It is carried on board most major airlines and can be found on newsstands nationwide.

In 1972, he was 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.

He is also listed in Who's Who in America, and in 1974, was named one of Time Magazine's "200 Future Leaders" of the country.

Graves served as a Civilian Aide to the Secretary of the U.S. Army from 1978 to 1980. He attended Airborne and Ranger School and finished his Army Career (in the rank of Captain) as a member to the 19th Special Forces Group, the Green Berets. He is also the recipient of the U.S. Army Commendation Award.

Earl G. Graves also served as chairman and CEO of Pepsi-Cola of Washington, D.C., L.P., the largest minority-controlled Pepsi-Cola franchise in the United States. He acquired the $60 million franchise in July of 1990.

The company covers a franchise territory of over 400 square miles including Washington, D.C. and Prince George's County, Maryland. At year-end 1998, he sold the franchise back to the parent company where he continues to be a significant stockholder and is Chairman of Pepsi's Customer Advisory and Ethnic Marketing Committee.

In 1997, he authored a book entitled, "How to Succeed in Business Without Being White." It chronicles the success strategies of America's premier African-American businessman. Published by HarperBusiness Publications, the book made the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal Business Best Sellers lists.

The book was also selected as a finalist for the 1997 Financial Times/Booz-Allen & Hamilton Global Business Book Award.

In 2002, Graves was named by Fortune Magazine as one of the 50 most powerful and influential African Americans in corporate America. He also serves on the Board of Selectors of the American Institute for Public Service, the Advisory Council of the Character Education Partnership, The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture and the National Advisory Board of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center.

In addition, Graves is a trustee of Howard University, the Committee for Economic Development, the Special Contributions Fund of the NAACP and the New York Economic Club. 

During the span of his business and professional careers, Graves has received numerous awards and honors for his outstanding business leadership and community service, including (but not limited to) the Ronald H. Brown Leadership Award from the U.S. Department of Commerce and the Dow Jones & Company Award for Entrepreneurial Excellence in 1992.

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 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. 

Graves is a member of the National Black College Hall of Fame and has received honorary degrees from 53 colleges and universities, including his alma mater.

Today, he continues to serve as chairman and CEO of Earl G. Graves, Ltd., parent company for the Earl G. Graves Publishing Company, publisher of Black Enterprise Magazine

In his 50-year career span, Graves has become one of the most powerful and influential businessmen in the country and clearly a champion of community service and philanthropy.

Graves and his late wife Barbara have three married sons, all successful professionals who work in the family's businesses.

Earl G. Graves, we acknolwedge your lifelong service to your community, and we honor your tireless efforts toward developing leadership in black businesses.


February is Black History Month! Every day this month, BK Reader will profile one Black History Maker born or raised in Brooklyn. There are countless Brooklynites— past and present— who have contributed to America's fabric as pioneers or leaders in art, entertainment, sports, science and government. This month, we present to you 28! Click here to see all of the profiles.