Friday, April 27, 2001

Dr. Leon H. Sullivan built a legacy

By Kendall Wilson
Tribune Staff Writer

The voice that roared from North Philadelphia to South Africa may have been stilled on Tuesday, but the legacy of Rev. Dr. Leon H. Sullivan will live on, countless numbers of admirers and friends vowed this week.

The civil rights crusader and humanitarian, who used corporate practices to help crumble South African apartheid and who put numerous African Americans to work in Philadelphia, and later across the country, died Tuesday night in Scottsdale, Ariz, following a courageous battle with leukemia.

Sullivan had lived in the Phoenix area since 1988, when he stepped down as pastor of the internationally noted Zion Baptist Church on Broad Street in North Philadelphia. Although he moved to Arizona, Sullivan carried the distinction of pastor emeritus of Zion after those 38 years of service there. And he returned to Philadelphia often to preach to the congregation he loved so much.

Sullivan was known worldwide as the founder of the Opportunities Industrialization Centers, regarded as perhaps the most effective self-help, job-training program on the globe.

He created The Sullivan Principles, a code of conduct for American companies doing business in South Africa. His work was also applied in Sub-Saharan African countries. Sullivan was preparing for his sixth African-African-American Summit in Nigeria at the time of his passing.

News of Sullivan's death was met with an outpouring of praise and tributes from Philadelphia and around the world.

“He was a very special man,” said Mayor John F. Street, who yesterday recalled how Sullivan gave him his first job:

“I think Dr. Sullivan left a legacy that represents great challenge for all of us in Philadelphia. He has proven that one - one person - can make a difference. He did it in a general kind of way by improving the quality of life in Philadelphia and for those in South Africa.”

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, traveling in Nigeria, issued a statement expressing his “great sadness,” but showered praise upon his international colleague.

“It shows how much one individual can do to change lives and societies for the better,” he said. “He was known and respected throughout the world for the bold and innovative role he played in the global campaign to dismantle the system of apartheid in South Africa.”

The Rev. Jesse Jackson called Sullivan “a tremendous source of hope and vitality and moral authority.”

Jackson praised Sullivan's work in Philadelphia - work that became the basis for Operation Breadbasket, the economic arm of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s civil rights organization, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

Reverend William Glenn, current Zion pastor, recalled Wednesday that Sullivan was “like a brother to me.”

“I've known him for 41 or 42 years, a long association,” he said. “He was a man of great inspiration, of enormous power. His charisma motivated me and others to be leaders in our community. He was such a great leader.”

“The world will probably recognize how great he was in years to come,” Glenn said. “Something to be admired was his ability to communicate with people from all walks of life. I count it as a blessing to have met him and to have become a part of his life.

Glenn continued, “When I communicated with him the other day, he said through his family members to tell me and the people back here that he will get back to Zion whenever he can. He loved Zion.”

Robert C. Nelson, president and CEO of the Philadelphia OIC, the prototype that spawned more than a hundred across the country and around the world, said Sullivan's loss represents both “a degree of sadness and a degree of challenge as well.”

“All of us who represent OIC have that responsibility to make sure there is perpetuity,” he said. “We are going to make sure that happens.

“Doc inspired all of us,” said Nelson, who has been with Philadelphia OIC for 24 years and has headed it since 1985.

“I told Doc early on that the organization is not defined by one person but by what it does, and he agreed,” Nelson recalled “Now, we have a chance to do that. He has provided the blueprint to enable us to continue. If you look around, you'll see many OICs across the country that are self-sustaining.”

Rev. William H. Gray III, the former U.S. congressman who now serves as president of the United Negro College Fund, said Sullivan employed different strategies than did his civil rights counterparts. Yet, Gray said that he ranks Sullivan “with Martin Luther King.”

Leon H. Sullivan was born on Oct. 16, 1922 in Charleston, West Va. He graduated from Garnett High School there and went on to West Virginia State College, earning his bachelor's degree. He would go on to Union Theological Seminary, and along the way, became a teenage minister in West Virginia.

In the early 1940s, he became an assistant pastor at the nationally noted Abyssinian Baptist Church, pastured by the charismatic, Rev. Adam Clayton Powell.

Sullivan came to Zion in 1950, building a congregation of 600 up to 6,000. He stepped down in 1988 and became pastor emeritus.

Along the way, in 1944, he married the former Grace Banks. And the couple had three children

In the early 1960s, Sullivan organized 400 ministers to launch a Selective Patronage Boycott to force Philadelphia area employers, among them, Pepsi-Cola Bottling C., Tasty Baking Co., and the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, to hire African Americans. In 1964, seeing that training was needed to fill these jobs, Sullivan launched the Opportunities Industrialization Center from an old abandoned North Philadelphia jailhouse.

At most recent count, there were OICs in 75 facilities in the U.S. and in 17 countries in Africa, Europe and Central America.

In 1983, Sullivan founded the International Foundation for Education and Self-Help, which has been the organizing arm and facilitator of the African-African American Summits, which began in 1991. The Sixth Summit will be held in Nigeria in October.

Sullivan has received hundreds of honors for his humanitarian efforts and held more than 50 honorary doctorate degrees.

He was admitted to the Scottsdale Healthcare Osborn Hospital earlier this month. And at the beginning of the week, his family announced Sullivan was “gravely ill.”

Daughter Hope Sullivan Rose, who released the statement on Sullivan's passing, said her father “was surrounded by family and friends and was at peace.”

“We ask that everyone respect our family's wishes and give us time to grieve privately,” she said. “We shared our father with the world; allow us one moment to remember him amongst ourselves.”

Funeral services will be held Tuesday, at 11 a.m., in Phoenix. The family asks that in lieu of flowers donations be made to The International Foundation for Education and Self-Help (IFESH), 5040 E. Shea Blvd., Suite 260, Phoenix, Ariz. 85254.

Rev. William Glenn, pastor of Zion Baptist Church here, said a memorial service would be held sometime next month.

Sullivan is survived by his wife, Grace and three children, all of whom work with IFESH: Howard, Julie and Hope; and seven grandchildren.


Reprinted with the kind permission of the
Philadelphia Tribune
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This page was last modified, Saturday, April 28, 2001 2:31 PM











The Leon Sullivan Summit


International Foundation for Education and Self-Help


"A Principled Man"


Global Sullivan Principles


Opportunities Industrialization Center (OIC)


OIC International (OICI)


 The Leon H Sullivan Foundation


The Leon Sullivan Summit






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