Earl Gilbert Graves, Sr. (January 9, 1935 – April 6, 2020) was an American entrepreneur, publisher, businessman, and philanthropist. He is the founder of Black Enterprise magazine and the chairman of the media company, Earl G. Graves, Ltd.
Graves was born in Brooklyn, New York, and grew up in the Bedford-Stuyvesant area of New York City. While attending Morgan State University, Graves made a name for himself as an entrepreneur. He realized there was a big market for flowers during Homecoming Week, so he went to two competing local florists and cut deals with both to sell flowers on campus. For a percentage of the profits, the florists provided the flowers while Graves covered the campus.
In 1964, after writing a letter to the Democratic National Committee, he became a volunteer for the presidential campaign of Lyndon B. Johnson. His work with the party provided Graves with the opportunity to serve as administrative assistant to newly elected Senator Robert F. Kennedy in 1965. Following Kennedy’s assassination, Graves served on the advisory board of the Small Business Administration in 1968.
From 1990 to 1998, Graves served as CEO to Pepsi Cola bottling franchise in Washington, D.C. He has held other board and director memberships to a number of corporations, including AMR Corporation, Federated Department Stores, Daimler AG, and Rohm and Haas. Graves also served as a board member of the American Museum of Natural History and Hayden Planetarium in New York City.
Graves received the Silver Buffalo Award from the Boy Scouts of America in 1988, and served as the National Commissioner from 1985 to 1994. He received the NAACP’s Spingarn Medal in 1999. In 2002, Graves was named as one of the 50 most powerful and influential African Americans in corporate America by Fortune magazine.
Graves was appointed by the administration of George W. Bush to serve on the Presidential Commission for the National Museum of African American History and Culture. On April 26, 2007, Earl G. Graves Sr. was inducted into the Junior Achievement U.S. Business Hall of Fame. In 2009, he became the recipient of the 2009 NCAA Silver Anniversary Award.
In his honor, Morgan State University’s business school was named Earl G. Graves School of Business and Management. It was opened in 2015.
A “special thanks” to Mr. Graves is included in Bayer Mack’s documentary No Lye: An American Beauty Story.
Graves died in White Plains, New York, on April 6, 2020, from complications of Alzheimer’s disease at the age of 85.