FORT WORTH (CBSDFW.COM) - You can't talk about Black history in Fort Worth without telling the story of William McDonald - the first Black millionaire in Texas and a natural born leader, said historian Jayn Higgins.
"The manner in which he carried himself was regal," said Higgins. "He didn't buy into the concept of being subservient or less than."
At 18, McDonald was hired as a school principal in Kaufman County.
At 21, he joined the state's Republican Party, eventually becoming chairman.
McDonald joined forces with a railroad executive, the two of them brokering deals that helped McDonald get rich.
He was 40 when he moved to Fort Worth's Terrell Heights neighborhood.
He built a three-story house that looked exactly like the home of Nathan Forrest, the man who owned McDonald's father before the Emancipation.
"That was so wonderfully sarcastic," laughed Higgins. "I love this man for that and I thought it was the coolest thing."
Once he settled in, McDonald began building up the Black business district. He started by opening Fort Worth's first African American owned bank.
"He is the one that showed the world - the community - that Black people could be businessmen," said Higgins.
McDonald bought and fixed up foreclosed homes, then rented or sold them to Black families. He donated a building to the YMCA, and he opened the Jim Hotel so Black travelers had a safe place to stay.
"He literally built this empire of Black-owned businesses," said Higgins. "And when Black folks drove through that 2-3 block radius, they felt exceedingly proud."
William McDonald died on July 4, 1950, but the 84-year-old had one last laugh in store.
His 38-foot-tall monument was built on a hill in the Oakwood Cemetery, looking down upon the former headquarters for the KKK's Fort Worth Chapter.
It's one of the few landmarks left for a man with a message Higgins says, is still relevant today.
"We are stronger together. Let us support Black businesses as much as we support other businesses. Let us lift each other up, let us trust each other, let us thrive as a community by patronizing each other."
There's a lot more about to learn about McDonald. Check out Jayn Higgins' video for other details:
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