Zion Baptist Church was established in 1882. Reverend Leon Sullivan was one of the congregation's most influential ministers. He also worked as a civil rights advocate, humanitarian and corporate leader. He is best known for creating the Opportunities Industrialization Centers of America as well as the Sullivan Principles which promoted political reform in South Africa.
Leon Sullivan was born on October 16, 1922 in Charleston, West Virginia. He
received a football and basketball scholarship to attend West Virginia State
College. Sullivan had to turn to the steel mill for employment and as a way to
pay his tuition after he suffered a foot injury that ended his athletic career.
became a Baptist minister when he was 18 years old. He was enrolled in the
Union Theological Seminary located in New York City from 1943-1945. In 1947 he
completed a Master’s degree in Religion from Columbia University.
Reverend Leon Sullivan became the pastor at Zion Baptist Church in North
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He continued working at Zion Baptist Church until
1988. During his time as pastor at Zion Baptist Church, the church membership
grew from 600 to more than 6,000.
Sullivan noticed job discrimination was a problem in Philadelphia. He began to
organize and lead campaigns that would challenge discrimination. One campaign
led by Reverend Sullivan was known as the “selective patronage” program. This
campaign organized the boycott of companies who were participating in
Sullivan also saw a need for the availability of job training in African
American communities. He felt job training would help in the fight to end job
discrimination. Reverend Sullivan founded and led the first Opportunities
Industrialization Centers of American, Inc which established employment and
Motors Corporation elected Reverend Sullivan to their Board of Directors in
1971. Sullivan used this position to his advantage and used it to battle
discrimination. Because GM was the largest employer in South Africa, Reverend
Sullivan established a code of conduct for all corporations operating out of
South Africa called Sullivan Principles. The principles were established to
protect human rights and encourage equal opportunity for workers. This code of
ethics helped to disassemble the apartheid in South Africa.
from United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Reverend Sullivan was able to
extend Sullivan Principles by launching the Global Sullivan Principles.
Reverend also helped raise money for small businesses by establishing the Zion
Sullivan’s most ambitious project is considered to be The International
Foundation for Education and Self-Help. The program allowed for the creation of
the Peoples Investment Fund for Africa, the Self-Help Investment Program, as
well as Teachers for African and Schools for Africa programs.
universities and colleges have presented Reverend Sullivan with honorary
doctorates, honoring him for his humanitarian and philanthropic activities. In
1992, President George H. Bush awarded Reverend Sullivan the Presidential Medal
of Freedom for the help he provided economically and socially disadvantaged
people around the world. He was honored for his humanitarian efforts in 1999 by
President Bill Clinton and received the Eleanor Roosevelt Award.
Sullivan’s success is not limited to religion, corporations or even civil
rights. He was also a distinguished author. Reverend Leon Sullivan died from
leukemia on April 24, 2001 in Scottsdale, Arizona however, his legacy lives on
through the Leon H. Sullivan Foundation.