On May 16, 1855, Richard Robert Wright Sr. was born a slave. Wright became a post-reconstruction pioneer and trailblazer despite his humble beginnings by making outstanding contributions to banking, politics, civic affairs, real estate, education, and other fields. He established a university, high school, and bank, among other things. Wright established the National Freedom Day Association in addition to owning multiple newspapers.
Wright established Savannah, Georgia’s Georgia State Industrial College for Colored Youth in 1891; it is now Savannah State University. Between 1891 through 1921, he presided as its inaugural president. The campus was been visited by U.S. Presidents William McKinley and William Howard Taft. Wright was regarded as a significant figure in the advancement of higher education for African Americans by the time of his president, in 1921. The college had well over 400 students by the time Wright left.
Wright’s children and grandchildren also benefited from his dedication to education. One of the first African Americans to receive a doctorate in sociology from the University of Pennsylvania was his son, Richard Robert Wright Jr. He was a leading theologian in the African Methodist Episcopal Church and the president of Wilberforce University. Ruth Wright Hayre, who also received a doctorate from Penn, was a well-known educator and the head of the Philadelphia school board. Wright Jr.’s daughter. She and her father received their doctorates from the university as the first black father and daughter pair.
At the age of 67, Wright Sr. stepped down as president of Georgia State Industrial College. Later, in order to start a bank, he relocated to Philadelphia and enrolled in the Wharton School of Business. Later, he established the Citizens and Southern Bank and Trust Company in Philadelphia, the first black-owned bank in a Northern state. When it was sold in 1957, the bank had survived the Great Depression and had assets of $5.5 million.
Richard Robert Wright, Sr. died in Philadelphia in 1947 at the age of 94. A year after his death, both houses of the U.S. Congress passed a bill to make February 1 National Freedom Day. Wright initiated this holiday to recognize the day in which the 13th Amendment was signed by President Abraham Lincoln to free all U.S. slaves.