Category Archives: Wisdom From Kammbia Column

Wisdom From Kammbia Book Review 39: Black Fortunes by Shomari Wills


Black History Month has passed, and I had a plan to read three non-fiction books about black history during the month of February.  I finished Maurice White’s wonderful biography, My Life with Earth, Wind & Fire quickly and then I read Before The Mayflower by Lerone Bennett, Jr.  Bennett’s groundbreaking book chewed up the rest of the month in reading because of its dense nature.  The epic scope of Before The Mayflower demanded to be read slowly and thought about after each chapter.  Now, it comes to my third book (a few days after February has ended), Black Fortunes by Shomari Wills.

Black Fortunes tells the story of the First Six Black Millionaires during the period of Reconstruction and going into the 1920s. Mary Ellen Pleasant began in the 1820s as a free black girl from New England and ends up becoming one of the wealthiest black women during the California Gold Rush of the late 1840s-early 1850s.  Pleasant was a commodity trader, moneylender, and helped financed the infamous raid on Harper’s Ferry, Virginia led by abolitionist John Brown.  Robert Reed Church, born as a slave, from a tryst between white steamboat captain and his black mistress, becomes one of the largest landowners in Memphis and helps create the famous Beale Street. Annie Malone was abandoned by her parents during slavery and raised by her older sister.  She invents several black haircare products and turns it into a thriving business.

O.W. Gurley grew up in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, but moved to Tulsa and built the Greenwood neighborhood that became known as “Black Wall Street”. Hannah Elias was the black mistress of white New York millionaire, John R. Platt. Elias used the money she received to help black real estate development in the famed neighborhood known as Harlem.  The most famous of the first black millionaires was Madam C.J. Walker.  She has been celebrated as the first black millionaire in American history.  Walker followed in the footsteps of Annie Malone and created her own black hair care products business that would rival the success of her mentor.

Wills writes a page-turning book that interweaves the stories of these millionaires and the tremendous challenges they faced during the Jim Crow era to achieve the American dream.  Also, the book reveals how interconnected these six would become and their place in moving the African American community towards equality.

The Karen Hunter Radio Show mentioned Black Fortunes recently, and I was glad she gave some time on the airwaves for the book.  The stories about these first six black millionaires are stories I will not forget and has piqued my curiosity about the Greenwood neighborhood in Tulsa.  Highly recommended.

Wisdom From Kammbia Book Review 37: My Life with Earth, Wind & Fire by Maurice White

I was challenged recently by a blog reader to read and review more nonfiction books. I have read fiction books for most of my reading life. There were numerous reasons why I have gravitated towards novels instead nonfiction. However, I chose not to state those reasons in response and accepted their challenge. I have decided… Continue Reading

Wisdom From Kammbia Book Review 36: Binti Home by Nnedi Okorafor

Can you ever go home again? Binti Home by Nnedi Okorafor attempts to answer that question. Binti returns home after a year away on a spaceship at Oozma University. She brings her friend, Okwu, for support. However, the homecoming does not go as expected and the family treats Binti like a pariah. She discovers a… Continue Reading

Wisdom From Kammbia Book Review 35: Animals at the End of the World by Gloria Susana Esquivel

I have a soft spot for coming-of-age stories. I don’t have a good explanation for why those stories appeal to me as a reader. But, they do. When I found out about this first novel from Colombian author Gloria Susana Esquivel, I knew I had to read it. Animals at the End of the World… Continue Reading

Wisdom From Kammbia Book Review 34: Black Women in Science by Kimberly Brown Pellum

Daddy, I’m ready to read another book with you at bedtime. I loved hearing that sentence from my 10-year-old daughter, Norah. We have read many books together over her young life. This time she wanted about women in science. I did a Google search a few weeks ago and came across Black Women in Science… Continue Reading

Wisdom From Kammbia Book Review 33: Jay-Z (Made In America) by Michael Eric Dyson

I love getting books as Christmas gifts especially from my 10-year-old daughter. This year’s Christmas gift is Jay-Z (Made In America) by Michael Eric Dyson. I will confess upfront that Jay-Z is not my favorite rapper and I have not listened to a lot of his music. My favorite rappers are Big Daddy Kane and… Continue Reading

Wisdom From Kammbia Book Review 32: A Time To Dance by Padma Venkatraman

One of the joys of reading is discovering a book (or author) you would have never come across in your normal reading experience. I will confess upfront that I’m not that much of a fan of YA novels. Reading about teenagers (or young adults) and their problems or issues does not move me as a… Continue Reading