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The Black Businessman Who Built an Empire Despite Jim Crow Oppression

March 20, 2020 in History

By Alexis Clark

Using white colleagues as front men, Bernard Garrett bought real estate, made millions and uplifted fellow blacks in pursuit of the American dream.

During the 1950s and ‘60s, the civil rights movement dominated the political landscape. But for Bernard Garrett, an African American born and raised in the South, the surest path to improving conditions for black Americans was by achieving economic freedom.

Garrett, unbeknownst to many, purchased at least 177 buildings, including what was considered to be the tallest structure in downtown Los Angeles in 1961, the Banker’s Building, all the while creating life-changing opportunities for African Americans.

“The only time a man is really truly rich is when he controls money,” Garrett said years later in an interview about his life.

Born in the small town of Willis, Texas, in 1922, Garrett showed a knack for business early on. He worked odd jobs, completing the 11th grade in Houston and running his own cleaning business. Garrett knew, however, he would need to leave the racial oppression of Texas if he wanted a chance to become a wealthy entrepreneur.

Bernard Garrett Moves to California With Family

In a beat-up van, Garrett, his first wife Eunice, and their small children, drove to California in 1945 in pursuit of opportunity. Once in the Golden State, Garrett started another cleaning service and a business collecting wastepaper, eventually saving enough money to buy property in Los Angeles. But his pathway to wealth accelerated when he met a white real estate investor, whom Garrett formally called Mr. Barker. Barker owned an apartment building for sale in a white neighborhood that Garrett wanted to buy. And with a convincing plan, he did.

Garrett paid below asking price, because the units needed fixing up, and obtained small loans from Barker and a bank to complete the project with an agreement that Garrett would rent out the building and pay back the loans. Garrett made good on his word, accomplishing two feats: he made a profit and rented units to blacks seeking better housing in an integrated area.

Barker and Garrett decided to form a partnership investing in properties, where Barker was the face of the deals and Garrett remained invisible.

“He operated in the shadows, because he had to,” says Brandon Winford, a historian at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and author of John Hervey Wheeler, Black Banking, and the Economic Struggle for …read more


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12 Times People Confronted a Crisis With Kindness

March 20, 2020 in History

By Lesley Kennedy

From the American Civil War to pandemics to the attacks of 9/11, individuals have responded to emergencies with generosity and grace. Here are some examples.

When a natural disaster, pandemic, war or of other crisis strikes, Americans have reacted with acts of kindness, turning both regular civilians and notables into heroes.

According to Rebecca Solnit, author of . In one tent, according to Trudeau, was Harry L. Benbow, a Confederate officer captured at Five Forks. As Lincoln extended his hand, Benbow told him he was offering it to “a Confederate colonel, who has fought you as hard as he could for four years.” “‘Well,’ said (Lincoln), ‘I hope a Confederate colonel will not refuse me his hand.’ ‘No sir,’ I replied, ‘I will not,’ and I clasped his hand in both mine.”

READ MORE: Abraham Lincoln

Smallpox Outbreak

The nationwide smallpox epidemic killed between 4,000 and 5,600 Americans from 1897 to 1903. In 1901, according to the Times Reporter in New Philadelphia, Ohio, it hit the Robinson family in Mineral City, Ohio. The parents, six kids and their belongings were quarantined in a farmhouse outside of town for months, during which time four of the children died.

“Their physician, Dr. William Willigman of Mineral City, also was placed in quarantine, living in a tent outside the house while attending to their daily medical needs,” the newspaper reports. While the surviving family eventually recovered, and Willigman was able to return home, as a precaution, all the family’s possessions, including their clothing, were burned. Released from quarantine, the Robinsons moved into a home owned by the Tuscarawas Coal and Iron Co.

“A complete new outfit of household furniture and utensils was given them by the Board of Health, and a generous supply of clothing was donated by the people of the community,” the Mineral Pointer newspaper reported at the time.

READ MORE: How an African Slave in Boston Helped Save Generations from Smallpox

San Francisco Earthquake of 1906

The ruins of San Francisco, still smoldering after the 1906 earthquake and the three-day fire that followed it.

Following the disastrous earthquake and subsequent fires that left 3,000 people dead and half of the city’s residents homeless, a woman named Anna Amelia Holshouser was forced to camp out with a friend, eventually setting up at Golden Gate Park, according to Solnit’s A Paradise Built in Hell. There, Solnit writes, Holshouser made …read more