Jake Simmons Jr

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Joseph Jacob Simmons, Jr. (January 17, 1901 – March 24, 1981) was a prominent African American oilman. He “rose above humble beginnings to become the most successful and most recognizable black entrepreneur in the history of the petroleum industry.” As an internationally known oil broker he partnered with Phillips Petroleum Company and Signal Oil and Gas Company to open up African oil fields in Liberia, Nigeria and Ghana. In 1969, he became the first black to be appointed to the National Petroleum Council.

Born in what later became Haskell, Oklahoma, Simmons was the ninth of ten children.His great-grandfather had been a slave of the Creek Indian tribe, and later became a chief as well as a leader for many of the freed Creek slaves. Simmons father owned a 500-acre (2.0 km2) ranch in the Haskell area. As a child, Simmons repaired fences and worked cattle.  At age 10, he told his father, “I want to be an oil man.”

Booker T. Washington, on one of his trips to Oklahoma, spent the night at the Simmons ranch and convinced Simmons to attend the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. From Washington, Simmons learned to love work for its own sake, and learned that success depends on an ability to charm and motivate people. After graduating from Tuskegee in 1919, Simmons married Melba Dorsey and moved to Detroit, Michigan. A year later he divorced her, moved back to Oklahoma, and married Willie Eva Flowers.

As a member of the Creek Nation, Simmons received {convert|160|acre|) km when the tribe disbanded. In the 1920s, oil flowed on his hand. He became an oil broker and entrepreneur, buying and selling oil leases, and started a real estate business. During the Great Depression, he sold Oklahoma farmland to African Americans in East Texas, who had made money in the oil boom. Meanwhile he expanded his oil lease-trading business into Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas and Kansas.He dealt with oil barons such as William Skelly, founder of Skelly Oil, and Frank Phillips, founder of Phillips Petroleum.

With the help of his sons and L. W. Thomas of Summit, Oklahoma, Simmons built the Simmons Royalty Co., and expanded into cattle and insurance. By the end of the 1930s, Simmons was operating in Oklahoma, Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas and Kansas. He was dealing with oilmen such as Henry Sinclair, William G. Skelly and Frank Phillips.

In the 1960s, Simmons worked as an intermediary in multi-million dollar deals between major American oil companies and newly independent African nations. He became internationally recognized in the oil business. In 1969, he was appointed to the National Petroleum Council.

Simmons refused to be a victim of bigotry. He told his children, “You are equal to anyone, but if you think you’re not, you’re not.”

Simmons thought that jobs were the key to economic empowerment for African Americans. He helped blacks gain skills in his business and then helped them find jobs in other businesses. Simmons once said, “It is a waste of life for a man to fail to achieve when he has the opportunity.” He also believed it was just as important to achieve in order to help others as it was to achieve to help yourself.

In 1938, Simmons filed one of the early court cases against separate schools and took it all the way to the Supreme Court. He was president of the Oklahoma NAACP and presided over the Negro Business League. Simmons was a capitalist who was determined to make the system work for and be accessible to all Black Americans. He believed in and fought for civil rights and was respected for his fierce sense of racial pride.

At the time of his death from heart failure, at the age of 80 in 1981, Simmons was the nation’s most prominent African-American oilman.

Simmons’ son J. J. “Jake” III was vice president of the family business before being recruited to work at the Interior Department during the Kennedy administration. He served as undersecretary of the Interior Department during the first Reagan administration and a member of the Interstate Commerce Commission in the 1980s and 1990s. Donald, an economist, took over Simmons Royalty Company. Blanche was a social worker and Kenneth, a Harvard-educated professor of architecture at the University of California, Berkeley.


  1. ed wrote:

    My man, at age 10 he said he was going to be somebody. That’s all it takes. My son want to do another garage sale so he can make money and he already know he want to get his own paper.

    I’m going to find Jake photo, frame it and put it on the wall for inspiration.

  2. FreeMan wrote:

    I think the successful ones start early. I think if you can get the right thinking in a kid without the fear factor that paralyzes adults it’s almost guaranteed.

    I was thinking the same thing. Kind of a Black Business Hall of Fame in my hallway instead of Platinum Plaques. LOL

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