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Celebrating Black Trailblazers in Real Estate

2.22.2022 | Category: Homebuying

Black History Month is celebrated every February to recognize the positive contributions and courageous achievements made by Black Americans.

Originally started in 1926 as a week-long observance, by 1976, it had grown to a month-long national celebration officially designated by every president since.

As real estate and mortgage professionals, it’s as important as ever for each of us to honor the many accomplishments of Black Americans and continue the work started by these great Black pioneers in the industry to protect the rights of Black home and property owners everywhere.

Philip A. Payton Jr., The Father of Harlem

Philip A. Payton Jr. was a real estate entrepreneur best known for renting properties in New York City’s Harlem neighborhood to African American families. He began his career as a porter and janitor, eventually working his way up to founding his own real estate firm.

In 1904, Payton chartered the Afro-American Realty Company, which bought apartment complexes and rented to Black families, among them families who had been evicted by the prominent Hudson Realty Company.

This strategy helped catapult the Afro-American Realty Company into a $1 million operation with annual rent receipts of over $100,000. While that company halted operations in 1908, Payton went on to start the Philip A. Payton Jr. Company, which continued to buy and manage real estate in Harlem for Black tenants.

Payton died in 1917 at the age of 41. The Philip A. Payton Jr. company continued to operate in his absence until 1922. During that time, it laid the foundation for the African American cultural and arts movement now known as the Harlem Renaissance.

Booker T. Washington, Founder of the National Business League

Booker T. Washington was born in 1856 into an enslaved family in Virginia. After emancipation, he moved with his family to West Virginia and received an education from Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute and attended college at Wayland Seminary. In 1881, Washington was the first leader of the new Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, founded for the higher education of Black Americans.

Washington was also one of the founders of the National Negro Business League, a professional business organization founded to promote the interest of African American business.

It was the first advocacy association for Black national business trade organizations and helped other Black Americans start their careers in education, real estate and politics. It’s still in operation today as the National Business League.

W.D. Morrison Jr., First President of the National Association of Real Estate Brokers

W.D. Morrison Jr. was a real estate broker and one of 12 founding members of the National Association of Real Estate Brokers (NAREB). Founded in July 1947, NAREB was established in response to the National Association of Realtors’ ban on Black real estate professionals.

Since its founding, NAREB has played instrumental roles in the implementation of equal rights, fair housing, equal-opportunity and community-development legislation at the local, state and federal levels.

Its significant achievements include assisting with the creation of HUD in 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the Community Reinvestment Act of 1977, the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery, and Enforcement Act in 1989 and establishing affordable housing goals for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in 1992.

William Byron Rumford, Housing Rights Advocate and State Representative

William Byron Rumford was born in 1908 and was the first African American elected to a state public office in Northern California. The policymaker authored Assembly Bill 1240, the Fair Housing Bill, to outlaw housing discrimination in California in 1963.

Despite the opposition of the California Real Estate Association, the Apartment House Owners Association, and the Chamber of Commerce, the bill passed the senate and was signed into law by Governor Edmund Brown. This law was incredibly influential across the country and helped shape what is now known as the Fair Housing Act.

Biddy Mason, Real Estate Entrepreneur and Community Leader

Also known as Grandma Mason, Biddy Mason was once one of the wealthiest women in Los Angeles. Born in 1818, she was enslaved when she made the trip West, first to Utah and then California. Released from her enslavement by a court judgement, Mason and her daughters settled in Los Angeles, where she worked as a nurse and midwife.

In 1866, she purchased her first home in Los Angeles, which quickly became a homestead for civic leaders and migrating settlers as well as the location of the First African Methodist Episcopal Church. This launched her investments in real estate, purchasing, construction and resale of properties. At the time of her death in 1891, her family was considered the richest in Los Angeles County, a distinction they held until the Great Depression in 1929.

Honoring Their Legacy

While it’s important to celebrate these trailblazers who worked courageously for the rights of homeownership for Black Americans, it’s equally vital to honor their legacy by informing others in the Black community about the long-term value of owning a home, one of the surest ways to build generational wealth.

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