When he decided to establish a brokerage firm in the early 1900s, Norman L. McGhee Senior’s interest was to give African Americans leverage in the financial sector. His model was to give his clients who were primarily blacks a strong foundation in the economy through stock investment. Perhaps, his early life before his rise to the echelons of the business ladder might have informed his passion to help other African Americans. He funded his university education at Howard University by working as a railway porter.
Norman was born in Austell, Georgia, to College trained parents. His mother, Maidee Haywood, was a teacher while his father, Daniel McGhee, was an AME minister. By 1922, he had his bachelor’s and law degrees from Howard University and became an attorney, according to Case Western Reserve University. However, his meeting with a black entrepreneur, Herbert S. Chauncey, completely changed the course of his future.
He later became a legal consultant and shareholder in Empire Savings and Loan Company, as well as Peoples Reality Company, and used this opportunity to nurture his interest in journalism. He soon became the editor of the Cleveland Post, a weekly newspaper for Chauncey’s insurance societies, which later merged with The Call to rebrand as the Call & Post, Ohio’s largest and most prominent Black newspaper.
Norman also took interest in the real estate sector; in 1952, he set up McGhee & Co to rally African Americans to take center stage in the financial space. He also established a mutual investment fund, Everyman’s Fund, to attend to the needs of the black community. As a staunch Democrat, he was appointed to the City Planning Commission in 1942, and also served as a ward leader in 1956.
Despite facing discrimination as an African American in a predominantly white industry, Norman persevered and built a successful brokerage firm that catered to the African American community in Cleveland. He also used his wealth and influence to support civil rights causes and was a prominent member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
Norman’s benevolence also extended to serving on many civic organizations and was a trustee of St. James AME Church and Wilberforce University. In the 1950s, McGhee’s firm expanded its operations to other cities in the Midwest, making him one of the most influential African American businessmen in the region. He continued to break down barriers and paved the way for other African Americans in the financial industry until his retirement.