By Michelle Antico, Marketing Coordinator
Black History Month celebrates African Americans’ achievements and contributions to our country. Since the start of the month, we have recognized two influential individuals that have made a lasting impact in the accounting profession – Mary Thelma Washington and John Wesley Cromwell Jr. This week, we want to acknowledge Nathan Garrett, the first African American to open his accounting practice. Like most Black individuals who have high hopes of entering the accounting profession, Garrett faced many challenges as he began his journey to becoming a CPA and opening his practice.
Though these challenges were eventually overcome, Garrett struggled to maintain high hopes for achieving his dreams. Despite receiving his Bachelor’s degree from the prestigious Yale University in 1957, maintaining an “A” average throughout graduate school, and serving two years in the United States Military, Garrett found himself unable to obtain a position within a regional or national accounting firm. In addition, he was told clients would refuse services from an African American.
Nonetheless, Garrett remained hopeful and worked unbelievably hard to overcome these challenges. He eventually found employment in Detroit in a private firm owned by Richard H. Austin, the first African American in Michigan to earn the CPA designation. While there, Garrett gained valuable experience and became Michigan’s fifth African American CPA. As confidence grew and the experience was acquired, Garrett moved back home to Durham, North Carolina, where he opened the first black-owned accounting firm.
After landing his dream job of owning his practice, Garrett continued to work through daily obstacles. He became a voice for other African Americans who wanted to be CPAs by promoting positive changes and breaking down barriers. In 2008, he was honored by the NASBA Center for the Public Trust as a Being a Difference Award recipient for his monumental work promoting ethical leadership and diversity.
Aside from the accounting field, Garrett made his mark in many other areas of people’s lives. He is the founder and former executive director of the Foundation for Community Development (FDC). The FCD, formed initially as part of the North Carolina Fund, was created in 1963 to “break the cycle of poverty” that was plaguing many of North Carolina’s residents. Additionally, he is chairman emeritus of the board of directors for North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance. Garrett has served as president of the National Association of Minority CPA Firms, the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy, and the North Carolina Association of Minority Businesses. He also was chairman of the Minority Economic Development Advisory Committee to the U.S. Secretary of Commerce.