Here is how Joseph Searles shattered a 178-year-old barrier and became the first African American floor broker on the New York Stock Exchange

BY Preta Peace Namasaba September 12, 2023 7:31 PM EDT
Joseph Searles and Robert Newburger

Joseph Louis Searles III made history in 1970 as the first African American member and floor broker at the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE), the world’s largest stock exchange by market capitalization. With a multifaceted background encompassing football, politics, economics, and corporate leadership, he stands today as a symbol of Black excellence. By shattering a 178-year-old barrier, Searles paved the way for other Black brokers and Black-owned firms to secure NYSE seats.

Searles embarked on his journey in the first year of integration at Killeen High School in Texas. Becoming the school’s first Black football player, he earned a football scholarship to Pratt Community College. His exceptional talent led him to Kansas State University, where he excelled as a star player on the football team and earned a bachelor’s degree in political science.

Following a year of professional football with the New York Giants, Searles redirected his path to attend George Washington University Law School. His commitment to advocacy extended beyond the field, as evidenced by his role as president of the New York and New Jersey Chapter of the National Football League Players Association for retired players.

Post-graduation, Searles served as an aide to New York mayor John Lindsay, distinguishing himself as an expert in asset development and urban revitalization. He pioneered mainstream strategies to transform minority business ventures, holding key administrative roles in the state of New York as Chairman and Director of the State of New York Mortgage Agency. In this capacity, he oversaw municipal housing issues totaling over $600 million and played a pivotal role in promoting housing and entrepreneurship in minority communities.

Additionally, Searles made significant contributions as Deputy Commissioner of the New York City Economic Development Administration, where he spearheaded the establishment of minority enterprises and small businesses in New York City. In a groundbreaking move, he hosted the country’s inaugural minority franchising fair in 1969. Searles also served as a valued member of New York’s Urban League Board of Directors and held the position of Treasurer.

Furthering his legacy, Searles assumed a brokerage role at Newburger, Loeb & Co., with the firm providing the financial backing for his acquisition of a NYSE seat—a historic milestone as the first African American owner. On February 12, 1970, Joseph Louis Searles III etched his name in history as the first African-American member and stockbroker of the New York Stock Exchange, where he executed trades for clients on the exchange floor. He was an active member of both the Stock Exchange Luncheon Club and the New York Young Republican Club.

In November 1970, Searles relinquished his NYSE seat to join Hanover Trust Co., now JPMorgan Chase, eventually rising to the role of vice president in the Public Finance Division in 1984. His enduring impact on African Americans within the NYSE was profound. In 1971, the NYSE welcomed its first Black-owned member firm, Daniels & Bell, Inc., underwriting securities for emerging minority-owned businesses exceeding $15 million.

Moreover, Searles assumed the role of Chief Real Estate Officer at the Harlem Commonwealth Council, where he played a pivotal role in retail and commercial development in Harlem. He served as the inaugural Chairman of the 125th Street Business Improvement District in Harlem and was a key partner in the $141 million retail and entertainment project known as ‘D.C. USA’ in Washington, D.C. Additionally, Searles held influential management positions at nonprofit organizations, including the Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation and the Center for Advocacy Research and Planning.

In a fitting tribute, the Killeen Independent School District honored Joseph L. Searles III’s remarkable legacy by inaugurating the Joseph L. Searles, III Stadium in 2022, recognizing his pioneering contributions to African American excellence on Wall Street.