Key Highlights About Rev. Leon H. Sullivan
- First African American to serve on the board of directors for General Motors
- Renowned preacher and activist
- Initiated the original Sullivan Principles
- Awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1991
- Founded and led the first Opportunities Industrialization Centers of America, Inc. (OIC)
Rev. Leon Howard Sullivan was the first African American to serve on the board of directors for General Motors. He was also a well-known preacher and activist who promoted nonviolent social and economic change.
Sullivan was born on October 16, 1922 in Charleston, West Virginia.
A graduate of Garnet High School and West Virginia State College (1943), Sullivan received his theological training at Union Theological Seminary and Columbia University.
Before serving as pastor in a church in South Orange, New Jersey, he served under Reverend Adam Clayton Powell in Harlem. In 1950, he began a 38-year ministry at Zion Baptist Church in Philadelphia. The church became one of the nation’s largest congregations.
In 1971, Sullivan was appointed to the board of directors of General Motors, the first African-American to serve there. In 1977, Sullivan initiated the original Sullivan Principles, a code of conduct for companies operating in South Africa. GM, as well as other multinational companies, adopted the Sullivan Principles. The Principles were among the most effective efforts to end the system of apartheid or racial separation. In November 1999, the United Nations adopted the ‘‘Global Sullivan Principles’’ as an international corporate code of conduct.
Nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, Sullivan was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1991 and received honorary degrees from more than 50 colleges and universities. Rev. Leon Sullivan died of leukemia in Scottsdale, Arizona.