Writing and Literature

Leon Sullivan was 10 or 12 when he was told he couldn’t sit at the lunch counter and drink a coca-cola.

Leon Sullivan, local chairman of the Opportunities Industrialization Centers (L) leaps from his chair to congratulate President Carter on his

Leon Sullivan, local chairman of the Opportunities Industrialization Centers (L) leaps from his chair to congratulate President Carter on his “Unprecedented commitment” to mount an effort to place 100,000 young people in jobs in the coming year (1980.) UPI/Corbis-Bettmann 

“Stand on your feet, boy. You can’t sit here,” the proprietor said. The incident inspired the young Sullivan to lead a private desegregation drive in Charleston, WV, his hometown. His efforts were successful; the owner of a segregated restaurant offered him a free meal, according to an obituary published by the New York Times when Sullivan passed away in 2001.

Sullivan’s early victory paved the way for a life dedicated to racial justice, both in America and abroad. The Sullivan Principles, developed over two decades, created a corporate code of conduct that paved the way for the end of Apartheid in South Africa.

Sullivan was a preacher, theologian and tireless crusader for human rights. In the YouTube video below, Sullivan visits students at Piedmont Elementary School, located in Charleston’s historic east end.