Earl Graves Sr. Dies: ‘Black Enterprise’ Founder Was 85

Earl Graves Sr. (Credit: Black Enterprise)

Earl Graves Sr., the New York native who founded Black Enterprise magazine focusing on African-American business and wealth, died Monday night after a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease, his family said. He was 85.

Black Enterprise confirmed Graves’ passing in a statement on Twitter.

“It is with profound sadness that we share news of the passing of Black Enterprise founder Earl G. Graves Sr. earlier this evening, April 6, at the age of 85,” the statement said. “We will evermore celebrate his life and legacy, in this, our 50th Anniversary Year, and beyond.”

Graves was born in Brooklyn in 1935, and grew up in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of New York City. He graduated from Morgan State University — Maryland’s largest HBCU — with a Bachelor of Arts degree in economics in 1958, and was a member of the Omega Psi Phi fraternity.

The future publisher served as an administrative assistant to the late Sen. Robert F. Kennedy from 1965 to 1968. After Kennedy’s assassination, Graves started a management consulting firm and advised companies on urban affairs and economic development.

He launched Black Enterprise in 1970 and later became chairman of Earl G. Graves Ltd., parent company of Earl G. Graves Publishing.

According to BE‘s website, the magazine has been profitable since its 10th issue. It has a paid circulation of 500,000 and is read by millions around the world each month in print and online.

In January 2006, Graves named his eldest son, Earl “Butch” Graves, as the company’s new chief executive officer.

In a statement Monday night, Butch paid tribute to his late father. “I loved and admired this giant of a man, and am blessed to be his namesake. LOVE YOU DAD!” he shared on Twitter, along with several pictures of his father.

In addition to his publishing work, Earl Graves Sr. previously served as chairman and CEO of Pepsi-Cola of Washington, D.C., L.P., which was once the largest minority-controlled Pepsi-Cola franchise in the U.S. He also served on the boards of AMR Corp. (American Airlines), DaimlerChrysler AG Corp., Federated Department Stores, Inc., and Rohm & Haas Corporation.

Graves encouraged young people to attend college, and frequently contributed money to Morgan State. The university renamed its school of business and management after him and made the announcement at the Black Enterprise 25th Anniversary Gala in 1995.

Earl Graves Sr. was a resident of Westchester County, New York. He is survived by his wife of more than 48 years, Barbara, their three sons, and a host of extended family members.