Don`t be concerned President Obama. The Reverend Dr. Leon H. Sullivan received over fifty honorary degrees, and, President Obama you have already influenced more lives, I do believe, than anyone else. You will surely catch up.
The Reverend Dr. Sullivan influenced my personal life far greater than Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. did, though Dr. King had greater influence in my professional life. But, of four people, I have held The Reverend Dr. Sullivan as my greatest role model.
Yorktown. A creation of the City of Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority and the FHA and HUD. Lesson learned: Always know what the city/town planners are up to. Ask that our councilmen keep our ward citizens informed.
In 1964 I moved my family back to Philadelphia from Richmond Virginia. Having found good employment I started looking for permanent housing. My cousin and family had purchased a new home in Yorktown(of 650 townhouses) and thought there may be a few left in the 1500 block of 13th Street. I took a look and there were just two left, 1502 and 1504 at 13th and Jefferson Streets. One block from Broad Street. The entire city blocks between 13th and Broad north of Jefferson and south of Jefferson were empty otherwise. Little did I know that I would be in a position to daily watch history in the making. I bought 1504 N. 13th Street. Beyond my backyard there was nothing but wasteland all the way to Broad Street. The future home of the first Progress Plaza Shopping Center.
In the 1400 block of Broad Street, just south of Jefferson, the 1st OIC was to spring forth. The story of these two giants is nothing short of amazing and almost unbelievable until one begins to understand the man and his dream, behind it all.
The Man – Leon Howard Sullivan
Born October 16th, 1922 in Charleston West Virginia.
At age 3 his parents divorced. At age 12 he stopped at a drugstore on Crystal St. in Charleston to buy a coke. A white man told him, “Stand on your feet boy. You can`t sit here”. The Reverend Sullivan said that incident set his life course. At age 18 he became a Baptist minister, some 6ft., 5in. tall . In 1943 Reverend Adam Clayton Powell brought him to New York to serve as assistant pastor. 1n1947 Reverend Sullivan received his Masters degree in Religion at Columbia University . 1950 – 1988 he was pastor at Zion Baptist Church, Broad and Venango Sts. in Philadelphia, where he quickly earned the title “the Lion of Zion”. Over the years his membership grew from 600 to 6,000.
1940s Helped organize a March on Washington.
1958 Reverend Sullivan asked businessmen of large companies in Philadelphia to start hiring African-Americans. Only two responded. So, along with other Baptist churches, he organized “Selective Patronage”. Polite words for boycotts. At the time the city was 20% Black. The slogan was “Don`t buy where you don`t work”. In 4 years thousands of jobs opened up. The boycotts were so successful that Dr. Sullivan advised Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Reverend Jesse Jackson. But this was not good enough for the Reverend Sullivan. He said, “ I found that we needed training. Integration without preparation is frustration”. So in 1962 he organized Zion Investment Association.
It happened one Sunday morning in 1962. The Reverend Sullivan had this vision for community self-help, due to all the poverty and despair he saw all around him in North Philadelphia. On this Sunday he preached about Jesus feeding the 5,000 it is said , “with a few loaves and a few fish”. He said to his congregation that he would like to do something similar with their help. He asked if he could get 50 members to invest $10.00 a month for 36 months, toward forming Zion Investment Association. The Reverend figured that would be a reasonable number to start with. After all, he reasoned to his congregation, this would be an investment for the next generation. He wanted to build a community-owned economic base, he told them. Not 50 but over 200 signed up that morning.
Just 16 months later Zion Non-profit Charitable Trust (ZNPCT) was created, parent for Community Development Corporation. Thus, OIC was born. They wanted to start training people as soon as possible, with no profit motive. Opportunities Industrialization .
After 20 more months a FOR-profit corporation was formed, named Progress Investment Associates . The first 10-36 investors each received one voting share with a promise for dividends in the future. The KEY to all of this was a sense of ownership and a stake in the common good for the community.
Progress Investment Associates made their first investment in 1964. They bought a 8-unit all-white apartment building in an all-white neighborhood.
In 1965 the 10-36 Plan was opened to new subscribers (church members) and 450 more joined up. These subscribers made Zion Baptist Church a financial force to be reckoned with. This same year Progress Investment Associates built Zion Gardens, a middle-class garden apartment complex in North Philadelphia. A one million dollar project, it was leveraged with 10-36 funds, a loan from the FHA and a grant from HUD.
The Reverend Leon Sullivan convinced the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority to DONATE the wasteland behind my backyard, that 1500 block on the East side of Broad St., to Progress Investment Associates. A whole city block facing Broad Street. Now it was time to go to the bank, the First Pennsylvania Bank. He saw the chairman and asked for a construction loan. The banker told Reverend Sullivan to come back in two, three or four years and they could talk. The Lion of Zion was ready for that one. He asked his treasurer to open the sack. Out came $400,000.00 worth of equities. The Reverend said the banker`s eyeglasses fell off his face. He jumped up, came around the desk and said they can talk. They shook on it. The Reverend said,” I found that $400,000.00 makes a difference in race relations in America”.
Thus, in 1968 the first Progress Plaza Shopping Center was opened, virtually in my backyard. First Penna. Bank opened a branch there . A&P opened a very nice super market there. OIC was at 1415 North Broad Street, south of Jefferson St..
A Jobs training center was opened on the 2nd floor of the main shopping center building, just behind my backyard. There was a 10-foot brick wall then a service street between me and the Shopping center. This training center was heavily funded by the Ford Foundation. The non-profit arm, the Community Development Corporation, also built a Human Services Center. They leased space at below market value in order to get a Social Security Office, Unemployment Compensation Office, Police Training Center and Health Services Center run by Temple University, located in a more convenient location for North Philadelphia citizens.
The rest is history. OIC went international (OICI). Progress Plaza(PIA) went international. There are the Global Sullivan Principles.
The idea behind the Zion Investment Associates` creation was to have something community-owned, to pass along to the next generation. Plain and simple. With today`s economic situation it is all the more reason to want to “gather together with a few loaves and a few fish,” and try to feed the 5,000. $10.00 a month today is not much for those of us with incomes, to give and then to pass along to the next generation. To paraphrase the Reverend Dr. Leon H. Sullivan, money makes it much easier to improve race relations in America.
My County Commissioner Viola Harris suggested last year in a meeting that members of this organization I belong to contribute $10.00 a month so we would not be forever begging for donations , and we could build a cushion for unforeseen expenses . I have been doing that ever since and it does not hurt at all. I would gladly give another $10.00 a month to an organization with community self-help in mind.
After leaving Zion Baptist Church in 1988, The Reverend Dr. Leon H Sullivan spent many years working in Africa against injustices and abject poverty.
The Reverend Dr. Leon Howard Sullivan passed away on April 24th, 2001 at age 78 .
Richard H. Parker Jr.
Tarboro NC 27886-5117