With the Chicago Auto show opening this weekend and this being African American History Month, I will give the story of a few of the African American men who blazed the trail for others in the business of new cars.
Albert "Al" Johnson was the first African American to own a General Motors dealership. His first franchise was Al Johnson Cadillac in South Shore and this later moved to Tinley Park on west 159th Street. He was graduate of Lincoln University and was a top GM salesmen back when African American cars salesmen worked door to door due to segreation. He was also a political fundraiser to two local politcial pioneers, Harold Washington & Barack Obama. Mr. Johnson passed in 2010.
His GM counterpart was Rufus L. Dukes, better known as R.L. Dukes, who first had Thomas Beckley Dodge on west 63rd Street back in the 1950's one of the first African American Dealers in the country. He then was better known for R.L. Dukes Oldsmobile on 78th & State in Chatham. He called himself "The Dealmaker" you may remember the TV commercials as late as the 1980's. My grandparents lived at 78th & Wabash at that time and though a small child, I remember riding past the dealership and being a kid who loved cars, marveled at the store and the inventory. Mr. Dukes passed in 1987.
Lastly is someone I knew personally Sylvester Sutton and Olympia Fields Ford on Western just north of US 30 (Lincoln Highway) in Olympia Fields. Friends of my family (The Youngs), are die hard Ford people and started buying their Fords from Mr. Sutton in the early 90's. I had the honor of selling jewelry to Mr. Sutton in the mid 90's when I worked in Matteson at Montgomery Ward and I visited the Olympia Fields dealership, it was a large store (he advertised it as a" Superstore"), that had a diverse staff and they were professional and not pressuring at all. He was a professional man who was a loyal customer to me. I honestly didn't know who he was at first (he never announced himself as a car dealership owner), he was simply a good customer. The dealership grew and is now Sutton Ford in the Matteson auto mall just west of Interstate 57 on US 30. I heard Mr. Sutton passed a few years ago and his brother Nate now runs the dealership which is bigger and better than ever.
So think of these men if you visit the Chicago Auto Show over the next week and their contributions to the auto business.