Financial History 135 (Fall 2020) | Page 24

Free ( Business ) People of Color

Antebellum Black Business Owners in New Orleans and Charleston

By Ramon Vasconcellos
As rioters paraded through the streets of New Orleans in July 1900 , looking for any Black whom they deemed eligible for retribution in the deaths of four white police officers , they came upon “ The Thomy Lafon School .” Considered the best school for “ Negroes ” in Louisiana at the time , the mob , out of disdain for anything representing progress for “ colored citizens ,” let alone named after any distinguished Black ( Lafon ), set fire to the institution . The building had been erected just two years prior and was named in honor of one of the city ’ s most prominent Blacks , Thomy Lafon , a businessman and philanthropist during the Antebellum and postwar eras . Furthermore , Lafon donated a substantial portion of his wealth for civic improvements before and after his death in 1893 and is believed to be the United States ’ first Black millionaire .
Similar philanthropic endeavors were engaged in by the “ Brown Fellowship Society ” throughout South Carolina , a group composed of free African American males for the purpose of assisting orphans
Library of Congress
Broad Street in Charleston , South Carolina , showing St . Michael ’ s Church , 1861 . The Antebellum period witnessed substantial business ownership by “ Free People of Color ”— or FPCs — in Charleston .
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