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5 Things You Should Know About America's First Black Billionaires

BET co-founders and former spouses Robert and Sheila Johnson could teach us all a thing or two about versatility.


In 1979, husband and wife team Robert L. Johnson and Sheila Johnson co-founded Black Entertainment Television (BET). In 2000, with the sale of the company to Viacom for $3 billion, the Johnsons were the first African American man and woman to become billionaires in the country. After the sale, the Johnsons, who divorced in 2002, weren't content to rest on their laurels and swiftly moved forward to the next chapter of their varied careers.

Read on for five fascinating facts about the Johnsons.

Related: 10 of the Most Influential African-American Inventors



Play to win

Robert made history in the arena of professional sports in 2003 when he became the first African American to become the majority owner of a professional sports organization, the NBA's Charlotte Bobcats. He also has a stake in the WNBA's Charlotte Sting. Sheila is the first African-American woman to have an ownership stake in three professional sports teams with the WNBA Mystics, the NBA Wizards ad the NHL Capitals. She is also the president and managing partner of the Mystics.

Be our guest

In 2004, Robert founded RLJ Companies, an investment firm that works in a wide variety of industries, including hotel real estate investment, asset management, financial services, car dealerships, sports and entertainment and gaming. That same year Sheila founded Salamander Hotels & Resorts. As CEO she oversees a growing number of luxury properties and hotels in Virginia, Florida, Louisiana and South Carolina.

Breaking ground

BET became the first African American-owned business listed on the New York Stock Exchange in 1991. With RLJ Companies, and RLJ Entertainment, Robert has taken three companies public.

Creative drive

Since the sale of BET, the Johnsons have kept up with the entertainment industry. Sheila is the founder and chair of the Middleburg Film Festival, which she launched in 2013. The following year, Robert founded a digital subscription video-on-demand venture called the Urban Movie Channel.

Pay it forward

In 2016, Sheila co-founded WE Capital, a venture capital firm dedicated to supporting and funding businesses led by female entrepreneurs who are focused on furthering social change. In 2007, Robert launched the Liberia Enterprise Development Fund to help entrepreneurs in the country get their businesses off the ground.