As you may already know, February is Black History Month. In honor of Black History Month, I wanted to talk about a few important African American people in real estate history.

Real estate began as a predominantly white profession. It was predominantly dominated by white men in the 19th and 20th centuries, with a small number of white women becoming agents in the early 20th century.

During this time, there was a lot of prejudice and inequality towards African Americans. Most of the country was segregated and black people were denied basic rights that many of us now take for granted. However, in a profession that began as predominantly white, these important figures I want to talk about helped inspire and pave the way for others.

The first person I want to mention is Biddy Mason. She was the first known black real estate agent. She also became what we now call a real estate magnate, amassing a number of properties and wealth by the time of her death in 1891. Biddy Mason was born into slavery in Georgia in 1818. At age adult, the family she worked for had moved all the way to Southern California. In California, laws provided for the freedom of African Americans. However, when she decided to leave the state with her family, her freedom was called into question. Her plea for freedom went through the courts and in 1856, at age 38, she was declared free. As a slave, she had learned the techniques of nursing and midwifery. As a free woman, she worked as a nurse and midwife saving for her first property. In 1866, she bought her first property. Mason, over the years, has bought and sold many properties. At the time of her death in 1891, she was one of the wealthiest women in Los Angeles, California. She defied odds and blazed a trail not just for her race, but for women as well.

Next came Phillip A. Payton Jr., the first known black real estate agent who later became known as the “Father of Harlem”, a neighborhood in New York City. Phillip Payton Jr. was born in Massachusetts in 1876. As a young man, he moved to New York to improve his life. Payton learned the real estate trade working as a porter at a real estate agency. He then opened his business, which initially failed. A few years later things started to change and he was able to buy and manage apartment buildings. In 1904, with the help of wealthy black men, he started a new real estate company, selling shares in the company to raise money. He called on black investors to help improve the availability of housing for black families. Over the years, Payton has purchased and managed real estate, making much-needed housing available to black families in the city. In 1914, three quarters of New York City’s black population, including prominent black people, lived in the Harlem neighborhood. Even after his death, his real estate company continued and worked to fulfill Paytons’ dream of making the Harlem neighborhood a political and cultural capital for African Americans in the area.

Finally, I wanted to mention Ben Slayton, the first black member of the National Association of Realtors. He has spent over 56 years in the real estate and mortgage industry. He was the first black man to be accepted as a Century 21 franchise owner-broker. He was also the first in his race to be approved by Freddie Mac as a Multifamily Program Plus salesperson/repairer. Currently, he is working on building the largest black-run lender in the United States, Legacy Home Loans. Slayton grew up in a time when segregation was a way of life and many African Americans were denied decent housing and education. A Jewish family “adopted” him and taught him the business of real estate and mortgages when he was young. However, to join a council of real estate agents, one had to be sponsored. Most real estate agents wouldn’t sponsor him because of his race and criticism from their peers. However, his adoptive family found someone to sponsor him for $5,000 in 1964. So, in 1964, he became the first black real estate agent in America. Over the next 50 years, Ben worked in real estate and mortgages, establishing several mortgage and mortgage-related companies which he sold to publicly traded companies. Today, he is the CEO of Legacy Home Loans in Las Vegas, which focuses on providing home loans to the African-American community. He started the company to help close the 30% homeownership gap between black and white Americans. How does the 30% home ownership gap translate? For every 10 black families, only 4 own the homes they live in. This is compared to seven out of 10 white families owning the homes they live in. Slayton’s company is currently licensed in 38 states and is building branches in communities where at least 25% of the population is African American.

In conclusion, we learned that you can achieve your goals with hard work and persistence. The people I mentioned rose above their circumstances, worked hard and succeeded. They challenged the social norms of their time, not letting them stop them, and became great role models in their communities.

Marlin Palich is President of Stark Trumbull Area Realtors.

Marlin Paliche