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Earl G. Graves Sr., Morgan State alumnus and founder of Black Enterprise magazine, dies

Black Enterprise magazine is responsible for highlighting, championing and guiding black entrepreneurs in America. Founder Earl G. Graves Sr. first published the magazine in 1970, and for decades Black Enterprise has been the leading resource for prospective or current black business owners.
Black Enterprise magazine is responsible for highlighting, championing and guiding black entrepreneurs in America. Founder Earl G. Graves Sr. first published the magazine in 1970, and for decades Black Enterprise has been the leading resource for prospective or current black business owners. (John Mathew Smith/Wikimedia Commons)

Earl G. Graves Sr., who founded Black Enterprise magazine after spending his undergraduate years at Morgan State University, died Monday night, his family announced.

His son, Earl “Butch” Graves Jr. said his father, 85 years old, suffered from Alzheimer’s disease.

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Former U.S. Rep. Kweisi Mfume said, “Earl set the tone and the tenor of the civil rights movement. I affectionately called him my Big Brother. He had a huge role in my life.”

Former Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke recalled Mr. Graves.

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“My acquaintance with Earl spans four decades,” said Mr. Schmoke, the president of the University of Baltimore. "I first met him as a junior staff member working in the President Jimmy Carter administration. He was promoting an early program to benefit minority businesses.

“His advocacy for minority businesses goes back half a century,” Mr. Schmoke, a Democrat, said.

Earl G. Graves Sr., was an entrepreneur and founder of "Black Enterprise Magazine." His philanthropic efforts at Morgan were rewarded with the naming the Earl G. Graves School of Business and Management. Graves graduated in 1957.
Earl G. Graves Sr., was an entrepreneur and founder of "Black Enterprise Magazine." His philanthropic efforts at Morgan were rewarded with the naming the Earl G. Graves School of Business and Management. Graves graduated in 1957. ((Baltimore Sun/Nanine Hartzenbusch))

The former mayor described Mr. Graves.

“He was gregarious and outgoing but was hard-charging in business,” Mr. Schmoke said. “Earl was fun-loving and a delight to be around.”

Mr. Schmoke said he became reacquainted with Mr. Graves when he was a trustee at Washington D.C.'s Howard University and the former mayor was then dean of the law school.

“Earl was a great promoter of Howard’s business school, and later the business school at Morgan was named after him,” Mr. Schmoke said.

Born in Brooklyn, New York, Mr. Graves earned an economics degree at Morgan and served in the Army as a Green Beret captain. He subsequently became a staff member in the office of U.S. Sen. Robert F. Kennedy. Mr. Graves recalled growing up in a Brooklyn brownstone with a stern father and warm, spirited mother who insisted that the local YMCA be integrated so her son could swim.

Mr. Graves returned to the Morgan campus in 1997 to discuss a book he had written, “How to Succeed in Business Without Being White.”

This Aug. 17, 1997, file photo shows Earl G. Graves Sr. in New York with his book "How to Succeed in Business Without Being White." Graves Sr., who championed black businesses as the founder of the first African American-owned magazine focusing on black entrepreneurs, has died. He was 85.
This Aug. 17, 1997, file photo shows Earl G. Graves Sr. in New York with his book "How to Succeed in Business Without Being White." Graves Sr., who championed black businesses as the founder of the first African American-owned magazine focusing on black entrepreneurs, has died. He was 85. (BEBETO MATTHEWS/AP)

“Earl G. Graves has always been clear about what he wanted,” a Sun story said. “Even as a business student at then-Morgan State College in the late 1950s, he would proclaim to anyone who asked: ‘I want to make a lot of money and I want to create change.’"

While a student in Baltimore, he sold corsages on campus and cut grass along Hillen Road. He later sold Brooklyn, New York, real estate and founded Black Enterprise magazine in 1971.

He recalled how his Morgan classmates laughed at his ambitions. He said that in the 1950s, few corporations recruited African Americans and few banks were handing out business loans, The Sun’s story about him said.

Mr. Graves donated more than $1 million to Morgan State and at one time sat corporate boards, including DaimlerChrysler Corp., American Airlines and Federated Department Stores Inc.

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Earl G. Graves Sr., pictured in May 1997, earned an economics degree at Morgan State University.
Earl G. Graves Sr., pictured in May 1997, earned an economics degree at Morgan State University. (BEBETO MATTHEWS/AP)

He also headed the Washington D.C. Pepsi-Cola Bottling Co., a large minority-operated franchise.

Mr. Mfume, a Democrat, recalled a visit from Mr. Graves and Myrlie Evers, widow of Medgar Evers, when he was serving in the House of Representatives and representing Baltimore’s 7th District.

“They begged and pleaded with me to come and take over the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. I respected both of them. ... Earl had a sense of purpose, determination and dignity," said Mr. Mfume, who agreed to take the NAACP position.

Mr. Mfume also said that Mr. Graves enjoyed his role in politics and was one of the most influential proponents of the presidency of Democrat Barack Obama.

Reflecting on his time at Morgan, Mr. Graves said, “I may have been the slowest man ever to have a place on the Morgan State track team, but, when it came to running after money, I was an Olympian, then and now.”

His wife of many years, Barbara Kydd, died in 2012.

“Earl’s biggest hurdle was the loss of his wife," Mr. Mfume said. "He personified what a family man was. They would open their house in Scarsdale to me at Christmas or for Super Bowl parties.”

In addition to his son, survivors include two other sons, Johnny Graves and Michael Graves, and eight grandchildren.

A funeral has not been announced.

Baltimore Sun reporters Liz Bowie and Lillian Reed contributed to this article.

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