Anthony Overton: A Black Manufacturer, Banker, Lawyer and Publisher
Excerpts from Black History Her0es Blog™
On March 21, 1865, Anthony Overton was born into slavery in Monroe, Louisiana. It was not until December 18, 1865 that slavery legally ended in the United States. Overton became a pioneering manufacturer, banker, lawyer and businessman. Much of his business operations arose among the African American community in Chicago.
The son of Anthony and Martha (Deberry) Overton, Anthony Overton was educated at Washburn College and would also graduate from the University of Kansas where he earned a Bachelor of Laws. He graduated from the University of Kansas law school. He practiced law for a time and even served as a judge before concentrating on developing his business operations.
In 1898, Overton established the Hygienic Manufacturing Company in Kansas City. In 1911, he moved operations to Chicago where he manufactured baking powder, toilet preparations, and other extract products. He soon launched the High-Brown Products label where he produced a full-line of ladies fine cosmetics and perfumes in Chicago.
Anthony Overton developed a major business conglomerate in Chicago that began its operations from this Overton Hygienic Building. In 1922, Overton commissioned architect Z. Erol Smith to design and build the Overton Hygienic Building. In addition to hygienic care products, Overton would operate the Chicago Bee newspaper franchise, Victory Life Insurance Company, Douglass National Bank, and Northern Realty Company from this business facility and his second building, The Chicago Bee Building.
The Overton Hygienic Building was later known in history as the Palace Hotel. The building is now owned by the Mid-South Planning and Development Commission, which announced plans to use the building as an incubator for small businesses within the Black Metropolis-Bronzeville District neighborhood. The Overton Hygienic Building is a Chicago Landmark and part of the historic Bronzeville District in the Douglas community area of Chicago, Illinois. It is located at 3619-3627 State Street.
In 1926, The Chicago Bee newspaper publishing business was founded as one of Chicago’s African American newspapers. Overton affirmed his confidence in the viability of the Black Metropolis of Bronzeville Chicago by commissioning architect Z. Erol Smith again to design a new three-story building to operate his new newspaper publishing business in a separate facility as his research and development, and manufacturing operations.
The Chicago Bee Building features a richly ornamented facade executed entirely in terra cotta. It was one of the most picturesque of the historic buildings in Bronzeville — at the time the only one designed in the Art Deco style of the late 1920s.
Although construction started at the beginning of the Great Depression, the building was ready for occupancy by 1931. In addition to the Chicago Bee newspaper, the building would house the offices of the Overton Hygienic Company after the Douglass National Bank closed in 1932. The newspaper closed in the early 1940s. The Anthony Overton Elementary School on Chicago’s South Side was later named in honor of this great African-American businessman.
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