Pleasant
Mary Ellen Pleasant, who died in 1904, was an abolitionist. Photo: Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Black History Month Profiles: Mary Ellen Pleasant, Entrepreneur and Activist

During Black History Month, DiversityInc is honoring a series of Black innovators and history makers such as Mary Ellen Pleasant who are often overlooked in mainstream media coverage and history books. Check back throughout February to learn about more important figures.

 

Born: 1810s, in Georgia or in Philadelphia

Died: January 4, 1904 in San Francisco, CA

Known best for: Being a wealthy entrepreneur who used her money for philanthropy and civil rights out west

Mary Ellen Pleasant learned how to run a business as a child while working as an indentured servant to a shopkeeper. She married a wealthy, freed man and together, they helped slaves escape north and funded abolitionist movements. After the death of her first husband, she moved to San Francisco, CA, from the east coast.

Mary started out working as a servant in the homes of wealthy Californians while also working at fine dining establishments. Being smart with her money, she eventually started her own boardinghouse and invested her money. She was reportedly worth tens of millions of dollars at the peak of her finances based on real estate and investing in stocks.

Related Article: Affordable Care Act Linked to Reduction in Racial Disparities in the Care of Cancer Patients: Report

But Mary Ellen is most well-known for her work in civil rights. She used her considerable fortune to sue a streetcar company that would not allow Black people to ride on it and sued another streetcar company that allowed segregation. She won both. The second case went all the way to the state Supreme Court. After two years, the court ruled in her favor, saying that in San Francisco city transportation could not be segregated.

The wins spurred her on to tackle more cases. She used her own money to defend Black people in courts as well as philanthropic causes.

Sadly, her life took a turn for the worst, in large part thanks to racism. She died in poverty after her financial partner, a white man, died. His wife made sure that Mary was not able to keep most of her holdings. Her name was also dragged through the mud in the press.

Sources: Wikipedia, BlackPast

Latest News

Attorney General Merrick Garland

Department of Justice Launches Investigation of Minneapolis Police Department Following Derek Chauvin Conviction

One day after the conviction of Derek Chauvin in the murder of George Floyd, Attorney General Merrick Garland has announced that the U.S. Justice Department would now be launching a full investigation of the Minneapolis Police Department, looking into possible patterns of discrimination and use of excessive force among officers…

Kelly Abcarian To Helm Measurement and Impact Group for NBCUniversal Advertising and Partnerships

Originally published at nbcuniversal.com. Comcast NBCUniversal ranked No. 7 on The DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity list in 2020.   On April 21, NBCUniversal’s Advertising and Partnerships division announced the appointment of Kelly Abcarian to the role of Executive Vice President, Measurement & Impact. An industry-renowned advanced advertising leader, Abcarian will spearhead the…