February 21, 2023
“Black history is American history, Black culture is American culture, and Black stories are essential to the ongoing story of America.” —U.S. President Joseph R. Biden Jr., Proclamation on National Black History Month
During Black History Month, BHG Financial celebrates Black Americans who, across generations, have demonstrated profound moral courage and resilience to help shape our nation for the better. And while Black History Month draws associations with well-known figures like Civil Rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. and activist Rosa Parks, there are many others to learn about. To honor a few prominent Black Americans and their contributions to the success of the financial industry, BHG proudly highlights 8 lending and finance trailblazers, past and present.
Mary T. Washington
Mary T. Washington serves not only as an important figure in Chicago’s African American business community but also opened a gateway of opportunities for African Americans to pursue careers in accounting and finance. In 1943, Washington became the very first African American woman to earn the designation of a certified public accountant (CPA). Having started her own accounting firm in her basement while studying business at Northwestern University, Washington also earned the title of 13th African American CPA in the nation. She founded Washington, Pittman & McKeever in 1968, still one of the largest African American CPA firms today and retired at the age of 79. She passed away on June 2, 2005, at 99 years old.
Honored as Community Banker of the Year in 2003 by The American Banker, Wright served as chief executive officer of Carver Bancorp, the parent company of Carver Federal Savings Bank and the largest African American-owned financial institution in the United States, from 1999 to 2014. Prior to joining Carver, Wright served as President and Chief Executive Officer of the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone Development Corporation, which spurred redevelopment in Harlem. Previously, she was Commissioner of the Department of Housing, Preservation, and Development, where she funded development of 21,000 affordable housing units and managed 43,000 residential properties.
Ben Slayton, a 55-year veteran of the mortgage industry, is the President and CEO of LEGACY Home Loans, a Mortgage banking firm whose Mission is to increase the homeownership of Black Americans. He is also known as the first Black REALTOR® in America, the first Black owner/broker of a CENTURY 21 franchise, and the first of (any race) to be approved as a Freddie Mac Multifamily Program Plus Seller/Servicer in the U.S. He is a leader in empowering African American communities throughout the U.S. with a focus on building sustainable wealth through homeownership and leaving family legacies.
Named one of 12 to Watch in TV News, Epperson, a senior personal finance correspondent for CNBC, can be seen regularly on television and other media platforms. However, in September 2016, the trusted finance guru suffered a sudden brain aneurysm that put her career on hold. After a 13-month absence, she returned to her role on CNBC. Her recovery, along with her sound financial planning that helped her get through her ordeal, now makes her advice even more real and enduring to the audience.
In 1953, Ernesta Procope founded the E.G. Bowman insurance company in Brooklyn, N.Y. In 1979, she moved the business making it the first Black-owned business on Wall Street. It grew to become the largest minority-owned insurance company in the U.S. Procope became a powerful voice for insurance reform to ensure fair coverage for low-income families. E.G. Bowman’s clients have included PepsiCo Inc., Avon Products, Philip Morris International, Time Warner Inc., Tiffany & Co. and General Motors Co.
Joseph L. Searles III
In February 1970, Joseph L. Searles III broke a 178-year-old barrier on Wall Street by becoming the first African American member and floor broker on the NYSE. At the time of his appointment, Searles was a partner at Neuberger, Loeb and Co. Searles’s time at the exchange was short-lived—he gave up his seat in November 1970 and went on to work at Manufacturers Hanover Trust Co., now JP Morgan Chase—but it had a lasting effect. During the following years, there was a steady increase in African Americans in financial services, including the entrance of the first two Black-owned member firms on NYSE: Daniels & Bell and First Harlem Securities.
Stanley O’Neal was chairman and chief executive of Merrill Lynch from 2002 until 2007 after serving in numerous senior management positions at the company prior to this appointment. O’Neil was the first African American to head a major Wall Street firm and one of only four Black CEOs of Fortune 500 companies at the time.
BHG Financial recognizes the legacy of these pioneers that have shaped the finance industry and, in many ways, helped lay the foundation for what we do here at BHG. We are forever grateful for their contributions and hope to honor them in the work we take pride in every day.