President Richard Nixon and Reverend Leon H. Sullivan

September 9, 1968
Credit Line
John W. Mosley Photograph Collection, Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection, Temple University Libraries, Philadelphia, PA.


Born in Charleston, West Virginia, Reverend Leon Sullivan (1922–2001) was a Baptist minister who moved to Philadelphia in 1950 to assume the position of pastor of the Zion Baptist Church. Known as “the Lion of Zion,” his congregation grew ten-fold, from 600 in 1950 to 6,000 in 1988 when he retired. 

According to Sullivan, the improvement of black lives depended on breaking down barriers to good jobs. In 1958 he led a campaign called Selective Patronage, asking Philadelphia's business community to interview young blacks. When only two businesses responded, he organized a boycott with the slogan "Don't buy where you don't work." When the New York Times and Fortune Magazine gave attention to the boycott, it became an event of national attention, and businesses began to respond favorably.

Mosley shows a public encounter between Sullivan and President Richard M. Nixon. The two men worked together with Nixon eventually implementing Sullivan's "Philadelphia Plan," requiring federal contractors in the construction industry to hire minority workers across the nation. It was a significant federal affirmative action program. President George H.W. Bush awarded Sullivan the Presidential Medal of Freedom. President Bill Clinton awarded him the Eleanor Roosevelt Human Rights Award.

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