Phillip A. Payton was dubbed ‘The Father of Harlem’. Before opening up his own business in real estate, Payton worked as a barber, handyman, and porter at a real estate office. He later invested his life savings into opening up his business and advertised, “Colored man makes a specialty of managing colored tenements.”
Payton Jr. was born in Westfield, Massachusetts, on February 27, 1876. He arrived in New York in 1899. Payton’s success grew from an idea, if he could get white landlords to allow him to manage their properties, he could rent them out to African Americans with them paying more than their white counterparts, however, it would present better opportunities for him and them in the future. Many of the white landlords took Payton up on his offer, and a couple of years later, Payton was managing nearly a dozen properties of the white owners but he had begun to buy his own buildings.
However, as African Americans spread west of Lenox Ave, white residents made an organized effort to get rid of them. They proposed through a financial organization, the Hudson Realty Company, to buy in all the properties occupied by black people and evict all the tenants. It was during this time, Payton countered with a similar method and formed the “Afro-American Realty Company. “His business was organized and prepared to buy and lease houses just for black occupancy. Again, the whites countered and refused to lend money or renew mortgages on properties that were occupied by blacks. Payton then bought two five-story apartments and dispossessed of the white tenants and put in African Americans. Whites panicked and took flight, by 1913, Harlem was home to as many as 70,000 blacks.
By this time, Afro-American Realty had over one million dollars in assets and was buying properties throughout the district. Payton continued his success in real estate until his death in 1917, at the age of 41.