Leon Sullivan

Presidential Medal of Freedom Recipient
Born Oct 16, 1922

Leon Howard Sullivan was a Baptist minister, a civil rights leader and social activist focusing on the creation of job training opportunities for African-Americans, a longtime General Motors Board Member, and an anti-Apartheid activist. Sullivan died on April 24, 2001, of leukemia at a Scottsdale, Arizona hospital. He was 78.… Read More

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News + Updates

Browse recent news and stories about Leon Sullivan.

  • Steve Mariotti: The Reverend Leon Sullivan: A Man Who Changed American Business
    Huffington Post - Sep 03, 2013
  • Things To Do Sunday, April 22, 2012
    The Charleston Gazette - Apr 21, 2012
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    Google News - Aug 28, 2011
  • Oic Celebrates 40 Years Of Service Springfield News Sun
    Google News - Aug 26, 2011


Learn about the memorable moments in the evolution of Leon Sullivan.


1922 Birth Born on October 16, 1922.


1939 16 Years Old As a teen-ager, Sullivan—who as an adult stood 6 ft 5 in tall—attended Charleston's Garnet High School for blacks and received a basketball and football scholarship to West Virginia State College in 1939 where he was a member of Tau Chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity. … Read More


1943 20 Years Old In 1943, during a visit to West Virginia, noted black minister Adam Clayton Powell convinced Sullivan to move to New York City where he attended the Union Theological Seminary (1943–45) and later Columbia University (Master's in Religion 1947). … Read More
1945 22 Years Old In 1945 Sullivan and Grace moved to South Orange, New Jersey, where Sullivan became pastor at First Baptist Church. … Read More
1950 27 Years Old Known there as "the Lion of Zion" he served from 1950 to 1988, eventually increasing its membership from 600 to 6,000 - making it one of the largest congregations in America. … Read More


1958 35 Years Old Sullivan believed jobs were the key to improving African-American lives and starting in 1958 he asked that Philadelphia's largest companies interview young blacks. … Read More
1962 39 Years Old 1 More Event
By 1962, the effectiveness of Sullivan's boycotts came to the attention of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr and the SCLC who persuaded Sullivan to share information with them on his success. … Read More


1971 48 Years Old In 1971, Sullivan joined the General Motors Board of Directors and became the first African-American on the board of a major corporation. … Read More


1977 54 Years Old In 1977, Sullivan developed a code of conduct for companies operating in South Africa called the Sullivan Principles, as an alternative to complete disinvestment. … Read More


1988 65 Years Old In 1988, Sullivan retired from Zion Baptist Church. … Read More
1997 74 Years Old To further expand human rights and economic development to all communities, Sullivan created the Global Sullivan Principles of Social Responsibility in 1997.
1999 76 Years Old In 1999, the Global Sullivan Principles were issued at the United Nations. … Read More
2001 79 Years Old …  Sullivan died on April 24, 2001, of leukemia at a Scottsdale, Arizona, hospital. … Read More
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