Founder of NY’s largest Black-owned insurance provider dies at 98

Ernesta Procope founded E.G. Bowman INC., the first Black-owned brokerage company on Wall Street

Ernesta Procope, whose company called itself the first Black-owned insurance brokerage company on Wall Street, died on November 30 in her home in Queens. She was 98-years-old, according to the New York Times.

In 1953, the real estate maven founded E.G. Bowman INC, which is reportedly New York’s largest African American-owned provider of insurance brokerage services. The highly profitable business was birthed in the Bedford-Stuyvesant or Bed-Stuy neighborhood in Brooklyn. 

When the company was relocated to Wall Street in 1979, it made history again as the first and largest minority-owned insurance company in the financial district.

Dubbed “The First Lady of Wall Street,” by the Black Enterprise, Procope overcame many barriers to become one of the most influential women on Wall Street.

Born to West Indian immigrants in 1923, Procope began selling auto and home policies for small business and homeowners in the early 1950s.

Her company, located in Bed-Stuy at the time — a majority Black neighborhood that many insurers avoided due to racism — specifically fought to provide African Americans and other marginalized groups with access to insurance.

Gaining mainstream success, E.G. Bowman INC counted Avon, IBL, American Express Co., General Motors and Time Warner amongst its clients.

Procope was also making a name for herself.

In 1956, she graced the cover of Jet Magazine as “New York’s lady builder,” and became the broker of record for several high stakes industries like the New York City Housing Authority and one of the brokers during the construction of the United States’ portion of the Alaska Pipeline.

In 1972, she was named Women of the Year and received the award from First Lady Pat Nixon.

Ernesta Procope
Ernesta Procope received the Woman of the Year Award from Pat Nixon, the first lady, in 1972. (PhotoCred: AP/New York Times).

The decision to move to Wall Street was a reluctant one for Procope.

“I honestly felt I couldn’t stay in Bedford-Stuyvesant and operate the kind of business I think I’m going to have in the year 2000,” Procope said to PEOPLE magazine in 1980. Despite wanting to support the Black community, she found it difficult to find qualified staff and personnel for the business.

In addition, she found that she couldn’t “necessarily depend upon the Black consumer market” for the larger scale services that she offered. 

Although the Civil Rights movement was well underway, Black Americans still faced racist economic suppressions and had not gained widespread financial freedoms.

However, she contended that Brooklyn will forever be her home, saying, “I would never turn my back on Bedford-Stuyvesant. I was born and raised there.”

She would later work with New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller and state legislators on the New York FAIR Plan, which was put in place to help homeowners in low-income neighborhoods find guaranteed insurance coverage.

Procope also received honorary doctorates from Howard University, Morgan State University, Marymount, Manhattan College, and Adelphi University.

She retired in 2016 and her company still remains in business.

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