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April 24, 2001: Civil Rights Leader Leon Sullivan Dies at 78

e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia

Civil rights leader Leon Sullivan died on April 24, 2001, at age 78. The Charleston native graduated from Garnet High School and West Virginia State College before being trained in the ministry at Union Theological Seminary and Columbia University. In 1950, he became minister of Philadelphia’s Zion Baptist Church. During his 38 years at Zion Baptist, the church grew into one of the nation’s largest congregations.

In 1971, Sullivan became the first African American to serve on the board of General Motors. In 1977, he initiated the Sullivan Principles, a code of conduct for companies operating in South Africa, which was segregated racially by apartheid. General Motors and other companies adopted the Sullivan Principles, which proved to be one of the most effective strategies for ending apartheid. In 1999, the United Nations adopted the ‘‘Global Sullivan Principles’’ as an international corporate code of conduct.

Sullivan also founded the Opportunities Industrialization Centers, or O.I.C., which created jobs in some 70 U.S. cities and countries around the world. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and in 2000, the city of Charleston renamed a major thoroughfare Leon Sullivan Way.

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