African-American Automobile New Car Dealers

Timeline - The Firsts

Shown below is a timeline of important historical dates of those African-Americans who achieved acclaim in the retail new car business. In addition, key events of historical significance are memorialized. They are:

Homer B. Roberts was awarded the Hupmobile franchise in Kansas City, Mo., the first African-American to be franchised as a new car dealer.

Roberts, along with Kenneth J. Caldwell, Jr. and Thomas J. "Big Piney" Brown, opened a Hupmobile sales/service outlet in Chicago.

Dan Gaines opened a Ford dealership on the Southside of Chicago and remained in business for a four year period (1936-1940). He was the first African-American to be awarded a Ford sales and service agreement.

Ed Davis was awarded the Studebaker franchise in the City of Detroit.

Bob Nelson, Jr. was awarded both the MG and Peugeot franchises; the first import car lines to be sold by an African-American.

Bob Neal obtained the Triumph franchise in 1962 which began a series of 'first' acquisitions of other import makes; e. g. Toyota (1967), Jaguar (1976), Honda (1979) as well as other small, niche car lines (Roots Group and Sunbeam). He can be considered the first African-American mega-franchise car dealer.

Ed Davis was franchised by the Chrysler Corporation (C-P) in the city of Detroit in November of 1963. He was the first African-American to receive a Big Three franchise in the Post WWII era.

Al Johnson was awarded the Oldsmobile franchise in Chicago, the first African-American to receive a GM franchise. He subsequently bought out Motors Holding, GM's dealer investment plan, the first minority to do so. In 1971, he acquired one of the Cadillac dealerships in the City of Chicago; the first African-American to obtain that franchise.

Vernon Small, who had been in the retail car business starting in 1963, was hired by Chrysler Corporation to assist in the development of its own training program. Three African-American candidates from with the Company were selected. They were:

Nathan Conyers, appointed the Ford dealer in Detroit in January, 1970, was elected president of the newly formed National Black Automobile Dealer Association (NBADA) (8/70), the first organization of its kind in the industry.

GM launched its GM Minority Dealer Training Academy on June 2, 1972; the first of its kind in the industry. It became the standard for all others to follow. The first ten candidates selected were:

Reginald G. Cannon Willie J. Patmon
Raleigh T. Guice Roosevelt V. Robinson
George V. Hughes Robert P. Ross
Sidney H. Jones Hayward S. Statum
Calvin Mercer Luther J. White

All ten of these candidates completed the Program. Ross was the first to be appointed a dealer (March 1974). Now deceased, Ross' wife and children remain in the car business today (Centerville, Ohio).

Statum has the distinction of being appointed (November 1974) the Chevrolet dealer in Salem, Virginia. He subsequently sold the business and then acquired the L-M franchise. He remains active in the business today – a total of 34 continuous years as a new car dealer.

Barbara Wilson, along with her husband, Porterfield, received the Honda franchise in Ferndale, Michigan (March 1979). She was the first African-American woman to appear in a manufacturer's sales and service agreement as a dealer principal.

Thirteen Ford and L-M dealers met in New Orleans (March 7-9) to form its own Association (Black Ford Lincoln Mercury Dealer Council); later evolved into the Ford Motor Minority Dealer Association). Bill Shack, the Ford dealer in Yucca Valley, California, was elected its first president.

A total of 37 ethnic minority dealers met in Washington D. C. on May 31st. The purpose of this session was to seek assistance programs from federal agencies for new car dealerships which were severely impacted by the on-going recession which began in 1979. The National Association of Minority Automobile Dealers (NAMAD) was established. Nathan Conyers was elected its first president.

The six Chrysler African-American dealers in attendance in D. C. concluded there was a need for its own organization and established the Chrysler Black Dealer Association (CBDA). The dealers were Todd Cochran (Dodge-San Francisco), Jesse Jones (Dodge-Ferndale, Mi.), Doug Lambert (C-P-Coatsville, Pa.), Franklin Perry (C-P-South Hill, Va.) Fred Rhodes (C-P-Tuskegee, Ala.) and Keith Bullard, a C-P dealer in Philadelphia, who was selected its first president.

GM established an internal working group of appropriate activities, the Minority Dealer Advisory Committee (MDAC) which was devoted to resolving ethnic minority dealer issues. Tony March, an African-American dealer from Hartford, Conn. was chosen as Chairperson and served in that role for 13 consecutive years.

Jackie Edgar was appointed dealer principal as the Chevrolet dealer in Jeanerette, La. becoming the first African-American women to be so designated with out spouse. She sold the dealership in 1985 and became the Ford dealer in Breaux Bridge, La. where she remains today.

Ford Motor Company published an internal Directive, the first of its kind in the industry, which documented its commitment to the diversification of its dealer networks and established specific goals for the appointment of African-Americans over the next five year period.

A group of African-American GM dealers met in Chicago (August) with the objective of establishing its own, independent organization. The General Motors Black Dealer Association (GMBDA) was formed and Greg Baranco, the Pontiac dealer in Lilburn, Ga., was elected President.

Three African-American dealers (Nathan Conyers, LaRoy Doss and Bill Shack) joined the Rev. Jesse Jackson in his first trade mission to Japan to encourage greater inclusion of ethnic minorities in their business endeavors in the USA>

The National Automobile Dealer Association (NADA) created two additional seats on their Board of Directors in response to the need for ethnic minority representation. Carl Barnett, Sr. (owner of both GM and Ford franchises in Texas) and Larry Brown (owner of Ford and Toyota dealerships in Illinois) were elected representatives (West and East). They were the first minorities to serve on the NADA Board.

It was reported by Black Enterprise magazine that Greg Jackson who owns and operates the Prestige Automotive Group (GM dealerships in Michigan and Florida, Ford in Lansing, Michigan and a Mercedes Benz franchise in SE Michigan) was the first African-American to reach $1 billion in annual dealership sales revenues.

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