Joseph L. Searles III made history in 1970 as the first Black man that traded on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. (Courtesy of the AARegistry)

By Megan Sayles
AFRO Business Writer
Report for America Corps Member

Joseph L. Searles III, the first African-American floor broker on the New York Stock Exchange, died at the age of 79 on July 26. 

Searles was born in Asheville, N.C. in 1942 and raised in Fort Hood, Texas. Before getting into finance and stocks, sports was his first passion. According to the African American Registry, he attended Killeen High School in Texas during the first year of integration for the institution. There, Searles became the first Black football player. 

After attending Pratt Community College on a football scholarship in 1959, he transferred to Kansas State University and earned a bachelor’s degree in political science while also becoming a leading player for the football team there, according to the African American Registry. He continued his education at George Washington University Law School, and then made football his career by playing for the New York Giants in the late 1960s. 

Once Searles retired from football, he made history in 1970 as the first Black man that traded on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. A floor broker, also known as a pit broker, acts as an independent member of a stock exchange who carries out trade for clients on the exchange floor. 

Although the majority of trades now take place electronically, Searles paved the way for subsequent African Americans to work in stock exchanges. Only one year later, Daniels & Bell, Inc. became the first Black-owned member firm of the New York Stock Exchange, according to Investopedia. 

After making his exit from the floor, Searles went to work for Manufacturers Hanover Trust Company, now known as JPMorgan Chase, serving as the vice president of the public finance department. Following this endeavor, he joined investment firm Newburger, Loeb and Company as a floor partner and broker. 

In addition to his work in finance, Searles had a strong footing in the nonprofit sector holding senior management positions in the Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation and the Center for Advocacy Research and Planning, according to the African American Registry. He also became the first chairman of the 125th Street Business Improvement District in Harlem. 

Searles’ commitment to advancing Black businesses and entrepreneurs shone through in his numerous careers. While acting as Deputy Commissioner of the New York City Economic Development Administration, he hosted the United States’ first minority franchising fair in 1969, according to the African American Registry. 

Searles is survived by his three children, Monica Dockery, Townsend Sowell and Courtney Snowden, as well as two grandchildren, Joseph Brown and Zamaria Cauthen.

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