How A Son Of Freed Slaves Became A Real Estate Tycoon

Anderson Hunt Brown was born in 1880. He used his natural business skills to become one the nation's first Black property moguls.F. Anderson Hunt (A.H. Brown), frustration was a strong factor that influenced much of his success.After suffering the pain and frustration of three lost wives in childbirth in Charleston, West Virginia, his frustration inspired him to fight to ensure that Black residents have access to quality medical care. This push resulted in the establishment of the Community Hospital, which was the first hospital built for Black residents. Brown was frustrated by the lack of affordable housing options for Black families and decided to create a real estate empire that would fill this need. Brown's frustration with discrimination fueled his lifelong struggle to make Charleston more diverse and provide opportunities for Black residents to succeed.Brown wasn't the only one who developed real estate in underserved areas. Other developers also did the same, exploiting Black customers who were often denied rights and limited options. The son of ex-slaves was one of many Black real estate developers that built their wealth by creating high-quality housing for those who were living in slums across the country. This model is attributed to Black realtors like Philip A. Payton Jr. from Harlem or Dempsey Travis of Chicago, who also built their holdings during the early 20th Century.Brown developed residential properties as well as commercial properties. He also leased office space to Black entrepreneurs in Charleston. This led to one of the first Black-owned shared workspaces. Brown, who died in 1974 at the age 94, had managed more than 100 properties by the time he died, according to Andrea Taylor (74), Brown's granddaughter and senior diversity officer at Boston University.It was difficult to build wealth in realty as a Black entrepreneur in early 1900s. Before 1968's passage of The Fair Housing Act, any racist housing practices or policies were legally allowed. It was difficult to buy real estate and even more difficult to start a business in this sector.Don Peebles, the CEO of The Peebles Corporation manages $8 billion worth of properties in New York City and six other U.S. cities. To be successful as Black entrepreneurs and Black people, they must be outliers. According to the Knight Foundation and Bella Research Group, less than 2% of U.S. real estate companies are minority-owned today.A.H. Brown, third from left, sits with his family. From left to right: His grandchildren Edward C. Coaxum, Jr., Wole Coaxum's great-grandson, Francis C. Taylor, and Edward C. Coaxum, Jr., Wole Coaxum's grand-daughter.Brown was able to see the whole picture and used his wealth and influence to launch court cases that overturned segregation laws at local libraries, lunch counters, and swimming pools. Willard L. Brown was the first Black judge to represent the state chapter in West Virginia in a case involving racial discrimination within public schools. This filing was part of the 1954 landmark U.S. Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka which banned segregation from public schools. Wole Coaxum is Brown's great-grandson and continues that tradition today. He is working to provide financial services for the unbanked Americans as well as narrowing the racial wealth disparity.Taylor said that Brown was about community building, diversity, equity, and inclusion. This is what Taylor calls the top ticket in all domains in the country. This was not an accident. This is a long-standing tradition.B Rown was born in Dunbar, West Virginia on April 23, 1880. His parents were recently freed from slavery and took on multiple jobs to survive. Brown and his siblings were enlisted to help them as farmers and laundresses. Family members claim that Brown started his entrepreneurial journey as a fourth-grader with a low education. He used to climb on coal train cars and throw coal onto the tracks. Then, he would sell it to local businesses with his friends for 50 cents.Brown, then a teenager, learned trombone playing and traveled to Western cities with his brothers, Uncle Toms Cabin. They earned $10 per week (or $300 today) for their performances. Brown returned to Charleston and learned to cut meat. He also opened a butcher shop with an adjoining restaurant. He took a Boston real estate investing course several years later and used his earnings for a home purchase at 1219 Washington Street next to Charleston High School.A.H. Brown, third from left, stands alongside a group that also includes Martin Luther King Sr., West Virginia's First Baptist Church in 1971. West Virginia State ArchivesTaylor says that Brown recognized the need to build the infrastructure needed for the Black community to survive due to segregation. Brown rented office space to local entrepreneurs in the 1920s. He built a restaurant, hot dog stand, drug store, laundry room, and pool room. Taylor recalls that The Block was the safe haven for the Black community and was in existence for over 50 years.She says he was an entrepreneur, a money man, and a person who understood how to finance projects. His work ethic was extraordinary. You could watch him arrive at his office at the exact time, and you could even see when he went to bed at night. He was very methodical and disciplined.Lucia James, a friend from the Browns and a Charleston resident in the 1950s recalls how Brown outfitted many of his offices in Charleston with the supplies that business owners would require. Brown, for example, would rent office space to budding printers and equip them with printing machines. This was an example of the success of Brown's block in the United States, James states.Brown purchased land in Charleston for his commercial properties. He rented it out to Black community members who might not have been able to secure housing from white realtors. Brown purchased three properties in Cambridge, Mass., when Brown's children Willard and Della attended Boston University to complete their graduate degrees. Della graduated in 1945 with a Masters in fine arts and Willard in law. Brown let his children live with him in one house and rented the rest to Black classmates, as housing wasn't available to Black students.He actually lived up to his words. He believed that helping others was his greatest gift and that the community was also enriched.It was remarkable to be able to succeed in real estate as an entrepreneur during Brown's time. Todd Michney, a Georgia Institute of Technology history professor, points out that Brown was working within a field that was directly against him. He says that the all-white National Association of Real Estate Boards began petitioning the courts in the 1920s to make the term realtor an exclusive trademark. This meant that Black real estate professionals could not legally refer to themselves as "realtors".While Black entrepreneurs in real estate like Brown were able to capitalize on the niche of selling to their communities, they also faced difficulties like not being able to access bank loans, according to Beryl Satter, Rutgers University-Newark's history professor.She says that the comparison between the challenges faced by a Black businessperson or entrepreneur in real estate is very extreme. We don't know many African American real estate professionals who have been successful. They had to overcome incredible obstacles.Brown's name is found in injunctions and lawsuits that he filed during his long civil rights campaigns. He started them in 1928 when his six-year-old daughter Della wasn't allowed to visit Charlestons public library. Willard Brown, his son, established a Charleston law office in the late 1930s. The two men fought side by side to desegregate many city services, though they did not succeed fully until the 1950s.Michney states that Michney understood housing rights as a civil right issue early on. This was something you didn't really see discussed publicly until the 1950s and 1960s.Taylor fondly remembers a time in Taylor's grandfathers life when he travelled with her on a bus in 1963 to the famed March on Washington.He lived up to his words. Taylor says that Taylor lived by the belief that he could help others, and in doing so, he was not only enriched but also the community. This is his lasting legacy.RELATED ARTICLESFORBES: America's First Black Female Bank Founding Mother Still Owes a Great DebtMORE FROM FORBES: Meet the Jackie Robinson Of Wall StreetMORE FROM FORBES Meet the Medical Pioneer Who Founded America’s First Black-Owned HospitalMORE FROM FORBES: How this unheralded black entrepreneur changed the food industry forever-and made a lot of doughMORE FROM FORBES: Meet the Man Who Escaped From Slavery and Made a Fortune In The Old West Again And Again