African Americans and Philanthropy

Lithograph of Bishop Richard Allen, 1847 and Portrait of Madam C. J. Walker, taken in 1915
Businesswoman Madam C. J. Walker (1867–1919) (pictured above right) supported African American educational and social service institutions, along with anti-lynching efforts and more. In the face of white racism and Jim Crow-era discrimination, her giving asserted and advanced African Americans’ equality.
In 1787, Richard Allen (pictured on the top left) founded a mutual aid organization in Philadelphia known as the Free African Society with other African American men including a formerly enslaved man named Cyrus Bustill who was a baker and an abolitionist. Decades later Cyrus Bustill’s grandson David Bustill Bowser and his wife Elizabeth Harriet Stevens Gray Bowser were active in philanthropy and civil rights activism. They ran a business in Philadelphia making fire hats, such as the one below, and other ceremonial items for volunteer fire companies.


Fire hat made by David Bustill Bowser, mid-1800s
Fire hat made by David Bustill Bowser, mid-1800s
Gift of CIGNA Museum and Art Collection

African Americans have been active in organized philanthropy from the earliest years of the United States. These resources tell stories of how African Americans in different eras have supported their communities and challenged racism and discrimination through their giving.

Discover more of the stories of the Bowsers, Madam C. J. Walker, and other African American philanthropists with these resources.