Celebrating Black History Month: Honoring Berry O’Kelly’s Legacy

February 29, 2024 | By

Sabrina Little, Rada Mills

Berry O'Kelly portrait

American businessman, Berry O'Kelly.

It’s Black History Month and we’re all the way here for it. Today we share the story of humanitarian and business and education extraordinaire, Berry O'Kelly. Born in Orange County, NC, O’Kelly moved to Wake County to live with relatives who had been early settlers in Method, a small post-Civil War community six miles west of the current  North Carolina State Capital. O'Kelly established the entrepreneurial spirit early in his life by owning his first business, a merchant store, by age 28. Eventually, the business grew, and O'Kelly owned two large warehouses that supplied shipments of goods to ports in Africa and other foreign points.

By the 1900's, Berry had established The Peoples Investment Company, where he served as President. Around 1910, he partnered with John T. Turner, proprietor of a grocery store in Oberlin, another post war African American village west of Raleigh, located  three miles from the current State Capital. Their partnership yielded a general store.

O'Kelly dived into banking when the Durham, NC-based Mechanics and Farmers Bank established a Raleigh office. Berry headed the stock sales committee and negotiated the purchase of the building site for the bank, which opened in January 1923. He was later named vice president and manager of the Raleigh location.

Berry O'Kelly Training School Method, NC

Berry O'Kelly Training School Method, NC.

Because of his commitment and dedication to education, in 1910, he established The Berry O'Kelly Training School in the Method community. It was initially a boarding school that provided students with industrial and vocational arts training and later became an elementary school. Although the school closed in 1966 and most of the buildings were demolished in the late '60s, the 1926 Agriculture Building survived and is currently the site of the Berry O'Kelly Community Center, which serves the residents of the Method Community.

"His widespread contributions have led to the vast entrepreneurial ecosystem that we're still benefiting from in 2024."

Mechanics and Farmers Bank

Mechanics & Farmers Bank

O'Kelly also served as President of the North Carolina Negro State Fair, and he was the first postmaster of the Method post office. He was a member of the State Interracial Commission, where he served on its Executive Committee; he was a member and auditor to the Raleigh Union Society. He was a lifelong member of the National Negro Business League, which he and Booker T. Washington founded.

Berry O'Kelly died in March, 1931 at the St. Agnes Hospital (a private hospital in Raleigh that served the city's Black residents from 1896 to 1961). He was a visionary and a pioneer in the Black entrepreneurial community. His widespread contributions have led to the vast entrepreneurial ecosystem that we're still benefiting from in 2024.

We’re excited to honor Berry O'Kelly's entrepreneurial spirit, commitment to education, and enduring legacy this Black History Month!

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The Black Wall Street Forward initiative aims to reshape narratives, engage community leaders and entrepreneurs, and foster sustainable, equitably invested, Black-centric entrepreneurial communities.

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