Would you have the courage to confront bigotry?
Would you speak-up for those who don’t have your courage, even if you were the only voice, as many of those most in need largely remained silent, fearful of the repercussions of speaking out?
This is the story of Edward F. Boyd, a bold African-American who did that, as he helped change society’s perspective of black people and helped black people to think more highly of themselves.
To understand how difficult this was, I’d like to take you back before the Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s, when racism was everywhere in America.
Black people were often referred to as “niggers,” and black men were sometimes called, “boy.”
If you were black: you, your family and other people of your color were treated like abominations of nature. You were seen as so ugly, that people made fun of your facial features and thought of you as so stupid, that they created vicious stereotypes of how people of your color supposedly thought and spoke. You were seen as lazy, dishonest and sexually immoral.
You and other black people were excluded from most housing, schools, jobs, restaurants, hotels and swimming pools. In parts of America you could be lynched for trying to vote, for speaking out against racism, for looking at a white person “the wrong way,” or even for just being “uppity.”
Edward Boyd decided to confront this racism, by diplomatically trying to educate Americans and by striving to correct the ills their ignorance caused.
Mr. Boyd was born in 1914 and raised in Riverside, CA a barber’s son. He graduated from UCLA and in Hollywood pursued an acting career, which he left after being cast in demeaning roles or in no roles at all. But rather than quit, he worked for the Screen Actors Guild to improve the situation for minority actors.
During World War 2, he worked in California for the federal war housing programs; he worked in San Francisco’s Civil Service Commission, where he became that City’s first African-American professional level employee and he was the head of the Vallejo Committee on Interracial Affairs.
In these jobs, Mr. Boyd took strong and effective action against long established job and housing discrimination.
After the war, he moved to New York to join the National Urban League and he also worked for the Rockefeller Foundation. On behalf of both organizations he confronted nationwide housing discrimination issues.
Then in 1947 something profound happened. Dodger President Branch Rickey promoted Jackie Robinson to the Dodgers and broke Major League Baseball’s strictly enforced color line.
Equally as profound, but far less publicized, also in New York in 1947, Walter Mack the President of Pepsi-Cola hired Mr. Boyd as an Assistant Sales Manager, a position of stature rarely given to an African-American at that time in any large company.
Mr. Mack wanted Pepsi to aggressively pursue a market largely ignored by big American firms, the “Negro Market.” Mr. Boyd was given the budget and the authority to run a grand-scale sales campaign. He hired eleven well educated black salesmen and they went across the United States pitching Pepsi to black consumers.
Mr. Boyd and his squad of salesmen visited every place black people gathered such as grocery stores, conventions, clubs, barber and beauty shops, hotels that would accept blacks as guests and with discretion church pulpits and into schools.
As they traveled the country, they often had trouble getting hotel accommodations and Mr. Boyd arranged for Pullman sleeping cars on trains so they would have a clean, reliable place to sleep and they often ate in their train compartments rather than be excluded from restaurants.
But the most important thing Mr. Boyd did was to commission a remarkable ad campaign entitled “Leaders in Their Fields.” In that campaign nearly two dozen highly successful African-American men and women were profiled and black people could see and read about other black people of achievement, a rare opportunity then and until then, a rarity throughout American history.
At that time few mainstream media would publish such pieces and so Mr. Boyd took them to the African American magazines and newspapers nationwide that gladly ran them. Reader requests for reprints poured in by the tens of thousands and black pride swelled.
So did Pepsi sales as the “Negro Market” campaign was a tremendous success.
But that success led to a dilemma. In 1950 at a national Pepsi gathering of management, bottlers and distributors hosted at the prestigious Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York, Mr. Mack spoke with candor. “We don’t want to be known as the nigger drink,” he told the large audience according to a 1997 Wall Street Journal article.
A hurt and depressed Mr. Boyd quietly stood-up in front of the crowd and walked out of the room.
Although the sales success continued, the following year a new Pepsi President fired Mr. Boyd and disbanded his team. But Pepsi was changed by this experiment and corporate American took note of the purchasing power of black consumers.
In 1962, one of Mr. Boyd’s salesmen, Harvey Russell was promoted to Vice President by Pepsi, becoming the first African-American to achieve that rank in a major American corporation. Today according to Pepsi, 30% of their employees are people of color and African-Americans hold 8.5% of the executive positions in the company.
As for Mr. Boyd, in the decades that followed, among other important jobs, he headed food relief for Egypt and Gaza for the Society of Ethical Culture in New York, became a mission chief for the global aid agency, CARE, helped build the baby formula market in Africa for Wyeth International and ran his own market research company, Resources Management Ltd.
Recently at 92, Mr. Boyd passed away. He is survived by his wife of 63-years, Edith and by their four children. As Jackie Robinson did in sports, he made a huge difference in corporate America and in black America and his work also saved vast numbers of lives in some of the world’s most poverty driven areas.
Success Tip of the Week:
“The thing in my life I’ve had most to fight is bitterness,” Mr. Boyd told The Wall Street Journal in 1997. “I always realized that once I became embittered, I’d lose my objectivity and become nonfunctional and ineffective.” This is very powerful insight and excellent advice for each of us to remember in pursuit of our goals.
Editor’s Note:I referred to Edward F. Boyd as “Mr.” throughout this article because according to The Wall Street Journal, “Remembrances” [5/5-5/6/07], he preferred that reference from people he wasn’t close to in recollection of an era when many whites offered little respect to black men.
In the next KazanToday:
What would you do if you found an envelope full of cash on the street? I’ll tell you what a 17-year-old girl did and the crucial difference it made in someone else’s life.