Earl Graves Sr. Created a Blueprint for Brand-Building

The ‘Black Enterprise’ founder’s visionary legacy

Keith Clinkscales
LEVEL

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Source photo: Charles Eshelman/Getty Images

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Earl Graves Sr. had a presence.

At nearly 6 feet 4 inches, Graves often dominated the rooms he entered. It wasn’t just his height that commanded respect or his signature sideburns; what made the man truly legendary was his vision. Over his 85 years, the Black Enterprise founder created an ecosystem of business empowerment, and in the process made himself synonymous with the audacity of Black entrepreneurs.

It is no understatement to say that Graves was one of the first entrepreneurs — certainly Black entrepreneurs — who embodied the ethos and aspirations of his own brand. Decades before today’s brand leaders in fashion, music, and sports leveraged their personas into market share, Graves perfected the blueprint. In the ’80s, Jordan became Brand Jordan. In the ’90s, Diddy wore jerseys emblazoned with Bad Boy. But long before that, Graves’ three-piece suits, monogrammed cuff links, full Windsor knot, and wingtip shoes were associated with his empire.

Before he started Black Enterprise, Graves worked in Sen. Robert Kennedy’s office, serving with him from 1965…

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Keith Clinkscales
LEVEL
Writer for

CEO of KTC Ventures, former CEO of REVOLT Media, Former CEO of Vibe Magazine. Founder of The Shadow League...Media Entrepreneur