Sullivan, Leon

Sullivan, Leon (Howard)

(1922–  ) civil rights activist, Baptist minister; born in Charleston, W.Va. Ordained in 1939 while still in high school and encouraged by Adam Clayton Powell Jr., he studied at the Union Theological Seminary (1943–45) and then Columbia University (Master's in Religion 1947). He joined the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem and supported the "Don't buy where you can't work" boycott. As pastor at Zion Baptist Church in North Philadelphia (1950–88), he espoused "evangelistic materialism" and led boycotts of Philadelphia businesses that refused to hire African-Americans. Among the organizations he founded to assist African-American economic development was the Opportunities and Industrial Centers of America, located in an abandoned jailhouse purchased by the congregation (1964). In 1971 he was elected to the board of directors of General Motors Corporation. The "Sullivan Principles" (1977) became guidelines for American corporations doing business in South Africa with the intent of destroying apartheid. Widely honored, he was given the Freedom Foundation Award (1960), made pastor emeritus at his church (1988), and awarded a Medal of Freedom (1991). He began a $40-million aid program for Africa in 1992.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.