May 21, 2024

Black Entrepreneur History

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Philip A. Payton Jr. – Father of Harlem & Founder of Philip A. Payton Jr. Real Estate Company

Once upon a time in Black Entrepreneur History lived an African American man named Philip A Payton Jr. who became founder of the Philip A Payton Jr. Company, a “pioneering real estate firm in Harlem”[1] during the Harlem Renaissance. He became known and credited as the Father of Harlem.


Philip Anthony Payton Jr. was born in the city of Westfield, Massachusetts in the year of 1876 on February 27th, the son of Philip A. Payton Sr., a barber, and Annie M. Payton, a hairdresser.

Philip A Payton Jr. attended Livingston College in North Carolina and after completing school, went home to Massachusetts to work as a barber. However, Payton Jr. wasn’t satisfied with his life or career yet, so he went to New York to carve his own path. He found work doing various jobs, including barbering, but then he landed a job as a porter in Harlem in a real estate office and hated what he saw. White landlords provided unfair and demeaning treatment to his race of tenants – African Americans. Therefore, he decided he would do something about it, and this was where he found his passion and reason for life.

Launching Philip A Payton Jr. Company

Once deciding he would fight against these unfair housing practices set up to harm Black people, he became a real estate broker and founded Philip A. Payton Jr. Company[3] in the year 1900, decades before the Harlem Renaissance. [Some write ups claim the start of this business was in 1904 or even 1908, but the year 1900 was from The New York Age newspaper and an ad from The Sun newspaper in 1902 that verified that it was prior to 1904 and 1908.]

In 1901, he married his wife[2], Mary P. Wortham Payton, and he would become landlord for African American tenants, by 1903 being over 12 buildings. He fought toe to toe against a white owned tenements who were evicting African American tenants, so Payton decided to buy other buildings and evict the white tenants, and he also bought empty buildings on top of that to move in Black people.

By this time, everyone who was everyone knew Philip A Payton Jr., including super powerful African American men like Booker T. Washington and more, which began to unlock the establishment of the Harlem Renaissance. Rubbing elbows with powerful African American men, such as owners of powerful newspapers, founders of historically black colleges and universities and more meant he was also rubbing elbows indirectly everyone who was everyone, and word traveled about the new place that was safe for African Americans to move – Harlem. White people were moving out, a term called white flight, when they feel too many Black people are moving in. This also gave Payton Jr. an edge, and he wasn’t afraid to not only stand up to housing discrimination but change the game overall, making it favor Black people.

Philip A Payton Jr.’s real estate company soared, known by “honesty and fair dealings[3]” for both clients and tenants, becoming the most well known African American owned real estate company in NYC, the Caribbean and Europe, even acquiring properties that were for sale in Berlin and Munich, Germany[3].

Philip A Payton Jr.’s Death

Unfortunately, Philip A Payton Jr. passed away on August 29, 1917 in Allenhurst New Jersey and is buried in Pine Hill Cemetery. After his death, the Philip A. Payton Jr Real Estate Company was headed by his brother in law, William H. Wortham, as president[3].

The success of the family owned company continued, and it was only 6 years after Payton’s death in 1923 that there was a calculation in The New York Age newspaper that “Nearly 4 million dollars in Rental Properties is owned by Colored Clients, With Yearly Rentals of 100K.”

Around this time is when an influx of Afro-Immigrants from the West Indies/Caribbean relocated to the USA, specifically Harlem, in numbers never before seen, not having to fight against housing discrimination because African Americans owned 70 percent of the real property, having purchased by 1925, 60 million dollars worth in the span of 15 years[4]. This is over one billion in today’s dollar. The reason Afro-Immigrants were coming was because of the Harlem Renaissance, or The New Negro Movement, which went global.

Without African American real estate brokers and agents purchasing the properties and fighting against housing discrimination, this large scale migration into Harlem by Afro-Immigrants from the Caribbean would not have happened due to residential segregation and social laws that prevented it.

Starting with Payton Jr., the Father of Harlem, this was all possible, and when William H. Wortham took over, he named Philip A Payton Jr.’s last Harlem project The Payton Apartments in his memory[1]. More African American real estate brokers popped up around Harlem and solidified it as the Black Mecca of the World.


1.The New York Age, NY, NY 7 Apr 1928 Sat Page 3, New York

2. Year: 1910; Census Place: Manhattan Ward 12, New York, New York; Roll: T624_1020; Page: 1B; Enumeration District: 0501; FHL microfilm: 1375033

3 -The New York Age New York, New York 22 Dec 1923, Sat • Page 1

4. Democrat and Chronicle, Rochester, NY, 15 Mar 1925 Sun Page 63

5. Photo is public domain from wikipedia 1907