Welcome to Black Mail, where we bring you Black History: Special Delivery.
Born in 1941, Travers J. Bell Jr. was a pioneer and trailblazer in the world of investing. He grew up in poverty on the south side of Chicago. Recognizing his ambition, his family encouraged him to pursue higher education at a time when most Black people were unable to do so. Bell earned attended Washington University in St. Louis, MO, and New York Institute of Finance, earning degrees from both institutions.
He began his career working as a messenger at the brokerage firm Dempsey-Tegeler and Company, where his father worked in the mailroom. Being in this environment ignited a passion in Bell. His passion and drive didn’t go unnoticed. Impressed by Bell, Dempsey-Tegeler cofounder Jerome F. Tegeler began to mentor him. At age 23, Bell was promoted to Operations Manager at Dempsey-Tegeler. Bell left Dempsey-Tegeler following his graduation and became Chief Operating Officer at Fusz Schmelzle. There, he continued honing his skills in sales and trading. During this time, Bell began to dream and strategize about owning his own firm.
In 1970 Bell and Willie Daniels decided to join forces to make this dream a reality. As a start-up, the firm had just $175,000 in capital. However, through a series of shrewd and savvy investments, they quickly increased their capital. Joining the New York Stock Exchange was no easy feat, and they encountered many obstacles. William Casey and Dan Lufkin were instrumental in supporting Bell and Daniels during this time. William Casey influenced the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to exempt Bell and Daniels from rules that hindered their financing and helped the men raise funds. As you might imagine, many did not welcome or embrace the idea of a black firm joining the NYSE. Dan Lufkin played a crucial role in advocating for Bell and Daniels. In 1971 Bell and Daniels made history, becoming the first Black-owned company to become a member of the New York Stock Exchange. Three years later, Bell and Daniel parted ways.
Bell focused his efforts on underwriting securities for growing minority-owned businesses and municipal bonds for small southern cities filling a niche with both groups. Due to racism and the financial risk involved, few investors wanted to underwrite these types of opportunities. Bell viewed his efforts as a way to support other minority-owned businesses and small towns to help build wealth and improve infrastructure in underserved communities.
Bell died unexpectedly in 1988 from a heart attack. At the time of his death, his firm had a net worth of $15 million. Darryl Bell, who is best known for playing “Ron Johnson” on the sitcom “A Different World,” is one of Bell’s children.
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