Objective. This study fills a void in research on race and social change by analyzing the transformation of the “black business elite,” that is, those blacks who have been nationally recognized as successful entrepreneurs.
Methods. Data from encyclopedic sources on eminent black entrepreneurs are used to build a chronology that documents how this elite has changed over time.
Results. In the early and middle 20th century, the elite was dominated by southerners who prospered in lines of enterprise that arose because of racially segregated consumer markets, namely, banking, insurance, and publishing. By the end of the 20th century, the elite was dominated by northerners, many of whom were born in the North and succeeded in forms of mass media entertainment that appeal to racially integrated audiences.
Conclusion. These geographical and occupational shifts reflect salient post World War II changes in race relations, most notably the decline of racial segregation in many areas of social life and the increase of opportunities for black entertainers to achieve distinction on a national level. Yet, blacks' pursuit of eminence in the business world continues to be focused into a narrow range of endeavors.