Black History Month: The Story of The First Black Accountant

Black History Month- First Black Accountant

When we started our business in 2018, our first client was a black business professional who trusted us to manage her accounting and tax affairs. It has been over 4 years that we are still serving her as a great client. Today over 20% of our clientele are of the African and Caribbean communities. Tax Care Accountant is proud to serve our African and the Caribbean business communities. 

Black History Month, which runs from October 1 to October 31 which was originated from the USA, aims to promote black history and culture throughout the world. The social, economic, and cultural contributions made by the British black communities in the UK and other parts of the world are now widely recognised in the UK. Although most people are familiar with individuals like Martin Luther King Jr., Malcom X, and Harriet Tubman, there are other, less well-known individuals who have made significant contributions to the history of Black achievement and empowerment. Black History Month is an opportunity to celebrate the achievements that African Americans have accomplished despite the history of racism and oppression. Today, we will look at a story of an accountant who was born into slavery and went on to become the first black American to hold a professional accounting position.,

John Cromwell Jr. and how did he become the first black accountant?
John Cromwell Jr. -the first black American accountant.

Imagine the courage and bravery it would take to be an accountant in America in the 1920s, especially when you are a person of colour. One of the toughest jobs in the world for a black American in a socially and economically segregated America was becoming an accountant. Despite this John W. Cromwell Jr. succeeded in becoming the first black accountant in American history. His story has set an example that with determination and perseverance, you will produce significant results. John W. Cromwell, Jr. became the first Black certified public accountant (CPA) in 1921, 25 years after the first CPA licence was issued in the United States.

In Portsmouth, Virginia, in 1846, his father John Wesley Cromwell, Sr. was born into slavery. Their father bought his family’s freedom in 1851, and they moved to Philadelphia in the free state of Pennsylvania. In Washington, D.C., John Cromwell Sr. later worked as a lawyer, educator, public servant, journalist, historian, and civil rights activist. He had seven children with Lucy A. McGuinn including John Cromwell Jr.


Who was John Cromwell Jr. and how did he become the first black accountant?

John Cromwell Jr. was born in Washington, D.C. in 1883 and received an honours diploma in 1906. Cromwell began teaching at M Street High School in Washington, D.C. after graduating from Howard University and Columbia University. He maintained the books for a plumbing contractor while he was a teacher. When he realised that he had a talent for bookkeeping and accounting he decided to carry on with this career path. Cromwell quit his accounting post at the Bureau of Internal Revenue of the United States Department of Commerce in 1918 when the country joined World War I so he could join the army. He served as a temporary accountant for the Bureau of Engraving and Printing following the war.

From 1920 through 1929, he worked as a permanent accountant for the Bureau of Internal Revenue. He was the first African American recruited on a permanent basis as an accountant by the Internal Revenue Service. When the Bureau of Internal Revenue was reformed in 1929, Cromwell was appointed the new Bureau of Narcotics’ top accountant. He held that job up until 1945, when he decided to resign. Cromwell returned to school after his retirement to study law. Although he passed the bar test, he never became a lawyer. Instead, he carried out census work in Washington, D.C., up until his passing in 1959.

Why is John Cromwell Jr. important?

Cromwell is important because he was the first African American to become a certified government accountant. He was also the second African American to become a certified accountant in the U.S. In addition, after the end of his government career, Cromwell took the Civil Service exam and passed, becoming the first Black person to ever work for the federal government as a lawyer. His passion and drive for his education is what made Cromwell get far in his career even with the difficulties of being a black African American at that time.

The racism and discrimination John W. Cromwell, Jr. faced as an accountant

Racial prejudice and discrimination against African Americans were pervasive at the time Cromwell started working as an accountant. Unfortunately, segregation in public schools was not ruled to be unlawful by the U.S. Supreme Court until the 1950s. Cromwell had a degree, but since he was Black, he was unable to find a job as a government accountant. But in 1920, Cromwell eventually secured a job as a temporary accountant at the Bureau of Internal Revenue after his many efforts. When the Bureau of Internal Revenue was reformed in 1929, he continued to work there until being elevated to head accountant of the newly created Bureau of Narcotics.


The life of John W. Cromwell, Jr. helps us understand that racism, prejudice, and segregation are still contemporary problems. He was able to get over most of the challenges of his time, but there was one thing he was unable to do: use the same restrooms as his co-workers. This is only one example of how far America has come in terms of racism and how far we still have to go. We can use John W. Cromwell, Jr.’s story as a reminder that no matter where we come from, we can all make a difference with hard work and dedication.

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