Black History Month: Key Figures and Moments that Shaped Automotive Marketing
In celebration of Black History Month, we would like to highlight a few of the great achievements made by Black trailblazers in the automotive marketing industry.
Homer B Roberts
The first Black car dealer
In 1919, after serving in World War I, Roberts returned to his home town of Kansas City and began selling cars.
Roberts understood the power of advertising, placing ads in The Kansas City Sun, the prominent local African American newspaper. His ‘cutting edge’ advertisements were quickly responded to by the Black community and his business prospered. By 1921, he had acquired offices and showrooms, hired two salesmen, and experienced rapid growth.
In 1923, he opened a brand-new dealership named Roberts Company Motor Mart. Smaller automobile manufacturers saw potential in the African American market and backed his business. This helped Roberts land franchises with Hupmobile, Rickenbacker and Oldsmobile.
The dealership couldn’t escape the grasp the Great Depression had on many businesses, and it closed in 1929. Even so, Roberts forever changed the way society thought about inclusion in automotive retail.
Founder of the world’s first and only Black automotive company
Courtesy of the Historical Society of Greenfield, Ohio, www.greenfieldhistoricalsociety.org.
Born as a slave in Virginia, Patterson’s story is one of rags to riches. Once he escaped, he settled in Greenfield, Ohio. With his new found freedom he got started in the carriage making industry, and in 1893, started his own company called C.R. Patterson & Sons.
It was a successful business employing an integrated workforce of 35-50 by the turn of the century, and Charles Patterson became a prominent and respected citizen in Greenfield. His catalog listed some 28 models, from simple open buggies to larger and more expensive closed carriages for doctors and other professionals.
1957 Chrysler Ads
First car advertisements featuring Black models
After World War II ended, many Black Americans continued to move from the South and were now working for automakers. During this period, more people from all cultures were purchasing new automobiles, so the automotive market needed to adapt.
In the early 50’s, Chrysler was one of the first companies to buy advertising in Ebony magazine. A few years later, in 1957, they became the first major automotive company to feature Black models in their print ads. It took no time at all for other manufacturers to follow suite.
Breaking color barriers, one lap at a time
In 1952, Scott became the first Black driver to compete in an official stock car race. After nearly a decade of being denied entry into NASCAR, Scott was able to get in with the help of Mike Poston, who granted Scott a NASCAR License after cautioning him, “We’ve never had any Black drivers, and you’re going to be knocked around.”
To which Scott replied, “I can take it.”
Only two years later, in 1963, Wendell Scott became the first Black driver to win a top level NASCAR race at Speedway Park in Florida, though he had to fight to even be granted the title after it was given to a different driver mistakenly. He eventually got the prize money, but never received the recognition (or trophy) he deserved for that victory.
Though he was still banned from many races in his career, Scott achieved one win and 147 top ten finishes in 495 career Grand National starts.
He was simply a racer at heart, and only wanted the chance to prove himself, which he did time and time again. He blazed the trail for many more to follow.
Like nearly any other aspect of America’s past, countless names and events have been lost or forgotten through the years. Black pioneers have made innumerable contributions to the industry. Even when the world that wasn’t on their side, they kept on pushing for equal representation.
“When it’s too tough for everyone else, it’s just right for me.”