Riots to Renaissance: Overton's beauty products

Anthony Overton, president Overton Hygienic Company

Anthony Overton, president Overton Hygienic Company

As a businessman and social activist, Anthony Overton recognized the importance of black-owned and -operated businesses to the community. A key figure in the economic development of Bronzeville from the mid-1910s until the early-1930s, Overton was committed to racial advancement and built his companies exclusively with black financial capital and staffs.

Born in Monroe, Louisiana in 1865, Overton was the son of newly freed slaves. Despite challenges the of race and class, he went on to great achievement earning a law degree, serving as a municipal judge, and later founding the Overton Hygienic Company in Kansas City, Missouri, which manufactured and sold baking powder, flavored extracts, and toiletries.

With a move to Chicago in 1911, Overton expanded his facilities and increased his product line to more than 100 cosmetics, which were distributed internationally. Later, reaching for new markets, Overton became the first black cosmetics maker to place products in Woolworth drug stores.

Overton's diverse business holding included publications. In 1916, he launched Half Century Magazine, followed by the Chicago Bee newspaper in 1926, a direct competitor to the popular and influential Chicago Defender.

A personal highlight of Overton's career was the founding of the Douglass National Bank. He followed that endeavor by opening the Victory Life Insurance Company.

Overton's businesses continued to prosper and grow until bank panics in 1932 shuttered the Douglass Bank and hampered his insurance company. His publications were gone by the 1940s and Overton was forced to scale back his manufacturing operations, which he controlled until his death in 1946.