Magazine article Ebony

From Sales `Associate' to CEO

Magazine article Ebony

From Sales `Associate' to CEO

Article excerpt

The Amazing Story Of The Black Triumph In Corporate America In The 20th Century

IN a 1953 issue of EBONY, Charles Udell Turpin, one of the country's top Black salesmen at the time, boldly predicted a day would come when Blacks would be given "high" echelon positions with White companies.

"The future and the salvation of the Negro lies in business," said Turpin, who sold office machines for Remington Rand.

Blacks like Turpin broke into corporate America in the early 1940s as sales "associates," pushing everything from toilet soap to booze. Exploiting the untapped Black consumer, White corporations saw the Black salesman as a vehicle to get their products into areas that before had been ignored. Successful in raising the bottom line at many companies, some of these sales associates were soon "promoted" to selling to White consumers, many times being subjected to hostile environments solely because of their skin color.

But before these advances were made in corporate America, Blacks first carved out a niche as entrepreneurs. Opening up businesses in Black neighborhoods, some African-Americans achieved financial independence unparalleled in the history of Black America. From car dealerships to grocery stores to jitney cab services to running numbers (now called lottery), it there was a buck to be made, Blacks figured out the best way to do it.

It wasn't until the '60s and '70s that the entrepreneurial spirit combined with the higher education that Turpin had spoken of, along with desegregation, voting rights and other civil rights advances, to help pry open the doors of the corporate world, and secure white-collar, non-sales positions for Blacks. Initially relegated to positions in human relations departments, Blacks gradually moved into public and community relations and later into management and front-office positions. …

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