April 27, 2001

Mayors Express Sadness at Passing of International Civil Rights Crusader Leon Sullivan

The Reverend Leon Sullivan, a pioneering civil rights crusader credited with helping end South Africa's system of apartheid, died April 25 at age 78, of leukemia according to his family.

Conference Immediate Past President and Denver Mayor Wellington E. Webb remembered the Reverend Leon Sullivan as a man of peace, action and determination in his quest for equal rights for African Americans and in his battle against African apartheid. "Rev. Sullivan was an inspiration to so many of us who shared in the struggle for equal rights and we are both blessed to have known Rev. Sullivan," Mayor Webb and his wife, Mrs. Wilma J. Webb, said in a prepared statement. "His unwavering spirit to promote nonviolent social and economic change lasted throughout his life and made a tremendous impact both nationally and internationally. He will be greatly missed, but his amazing accomplishments throughout his life will endure and inspire for centuries to come."

Mayor Webb attended the Fifth African-African American Summit convened by Rev. Sullivan in May 1999 in Ghana, West Africa, where the Mayor delivered a major policy address to the Summit delegates. Mayor Webb's address was the capstone in an historic U. S. Conference of Mayors' "Mayoral Mission to Africa" to Dakar, Senegal, and Accra, Ghana.

As a Philadelphia minister in the early 1960s, Sullivan organized a nonviolent boycott of local companies that would not hire blacks. The slogan: 'Don't buy where you don't work.' The boycott worked and jobs were offered to people of all races, but many did not have the skills required for the openings. Sullivan offered a solution in 1965 by beginning the Opportunities Industrialization Center, a job-training program that to date has trained about 1.5 million people in 142 centers worldwide.

Sullivan devised the Sullivan Principles in the 1970s, after becoming the first black board member at General Motors Corp. He described them as "a code that companies of America and the world came to follow to end apartheid peacefully, starting with the workplace." Companies doing business in South Africa were encouraged to give opportunities to their black workers and help local communities. In 1988 Mr. Sullivan moved to Phoenix and began building bridges between Africa and black America, organizing a series of African and African-American summit meetings, with the first held in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, in 1991.

"He was a pioneer for civil rights in the inner city and around the world," said Conference Executive Director J. Thomas Cochran. "He was a fearless leader in our struggle to end apartheid in the United States and Africa. We appreciate Reverend Sullivan's bold leadership in initiating the African American Summit, and will continue to support his legacy of bringing Africa and America closer together."

In 1992, then-President Bush awarded Sullivan the Presidential Medal of Freedom. In addition to Rose, he is survived by his wife, Grace; son, Howard; daughter Julie; and seven grandchildren.


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