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Mon, 01.25.1858

Robert Curry Owens, Businessman born

Robert Curry Owens and Family

*The birth of Robert Curry Owens is celebrated on this date in 1858. He was a Black businessman. He was born in Los Angeles, California, to Charles Owens, a livery stable owner, and Ellen Mason-Owens. As the first-born grandson to the Owens-Mason union, Robert rose to prominence in Los Angeles after inheriting his father’s and grandmother Bridget “Biddy” Mason’s estate.

During his childhood, Owens attended J.B. Sanderson’s School for Blacks in Oakland, California, and completed his education in 1879 after studying business. Throughout his youth, Owens worked as a ranch laborer and a charcoal peddler and even drove the street sprinkler for Los Angeles city contractors. When Charles Owens died in 1882, Robert and his brother, Henry L., inherited their father’s real estate holdings in Los Angeles, including The Owens Livery Stable.

With his inheritance in 1891, he constructed a new livery stable on her real estate holdings and a six-story building worth $250,000. Owens even purchased one of the most elegant homes in a predominately white neighborhood for his wife Annie and their two daughters Gladys and Manila L. In addition, the Owens business block along Spring Street housed several of L.A.’s black-owned establishments. By the start of the twentieth century, Owens’ property holdings were worth a quarter million dollars, making him the wealthiest African American on the west coast.

Owens emerged as a leader of Black Los Angeles and an interracial diplomat during the 1880s. He became the first black man to attend the California State Republican Convention and served on the Los Angeles County Executive Committee. A firm advocate of “uplift ideology,” Owens identified Booker T. Washington as “one of the most prominent figures of all great men of the world.” Owens contributed significantly to the Tuskegee Institute and often provided funding for poor students. 

His influence declined during the latter part of the Progressive Era as new African American leaders of the Black middle class emerged. Robert C. Owens died on February 14, 1932.

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