This afternoon at the airport where I lost my bluetooth headset on my way to Chicago, I looked forward to the peaceful moments above the country where I could stop engaging my colleagues on subjects of Gay Marriage and Black Militancy, both dubious concepts in which a great number of people other than me have invested much faith and rhetorical fire. Wouldn't you know the cover of Fortune magazine at the newstand dragged me back into the latter.
In 1962—less than a lifetime ago—Harvey C. Russell did what no other black man had done before. He became a vice president of a FORTUNE 500 company.
The company was Pepsi-Cola, and Russell, then 44, had been a standout salesman in its Negro Sales Department for the previous 12 years. "Mr. Russell's promotion was based solely on merit," Pepsi's president, Herbert Barnet, told the New York Times a few months later. "He came the hard way and has been one of our brilliant young men for 12 years." But this milestone was not greeted with widespread rejoicing. The Ku Klux Klan called for a national boycott of Pepsi's products. The group flooded the country with handbills that read: DON'T BUY PEPSI AND MAKE A NIGGER RICH.
On the cover of Fortune are old heads and new-jacks, veterans all of that place we call Corporate America. Not long ago I was talking about how Black Nationalism bogarded Corporate America, and while some would call that a militant mindset, I would not. If we have that kind of epistemological difference, that's OK, but I am notorious for parsing words to the extreme, and I'd prefer if people used my terms. Nevertheless there was a particular individual who struck me as different than the rest. His name is Lee Archer, and that's a funky webpage about him.
I also found this interesting clip about Archer:
Governor George E. Pataki unveiled a full-scale replica of a P-51 Mustang fighter as a permanent tribute to the Tuskegee Airmen of World War II at the American Airpower Museum at Republic Airport. The Governor was joined by Lt. Col. Lee Archer, a Tuskegee ace whose aircraft markings are featured on the Mustang, and by leaders of Long Island’s veterans community. The replica will serve as a tribute to the challenge the Tuskegee Airmen faced in confronting a two-front war: the German Luftwaffe and American racism.
Lt. Colonel Lee Archer said, “Governor Pataki has been in the vanguard of the battle against racism in all its repugnant forms. It should come as no surprise that he would now take the lead in creating this fitting tribute to these veterans of 60 years ago. This Mustang represents every one of us who have been willing to fight—and to die—for our nation’s liberties. In honoring the Tuskegee Airmen, you honor the inherent strengths of a nation where life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is a right guaranteed to all of us, regardless of race, color or creed.”
That's what I'm talking about. Furthermore, here is part of the Fortune article on Archer:
General Foods sent Archer to the University of Pittsburgh to take a graduate course in financial management. He came back a venture capitalist. In 1973 he became CEO of Vanguard Capital Corp., General Foods' minority-business investment company. Two years later he also became CEO of North Street Capital Corp., the company's small-business investment arm; in 1980 he became CEO of Hudson Commercial Corp., a tobacco-investment arm. In those three roles he helped create 74 companies, including Essence Communications and Black Enterprise magazine. Archer also became a key advisor to the late Reginald Lewis in the leveraged buyout deal that created the conglomerate TLC Beatrice in 1987. "Lee is tough, just like my husband," says Loida Lewis, widow of the Beatrice CEO. "Lee constantly challenged him, which made him better. "
The hardest part of his corporate career, says Archer, was knowing who was going to be fair and who wasn't. For the 17 years he was at General Foods, he kept journals with lists of names. The names are divided into two lists: white hats and black hats. The white hats "gave me a shot," he says. The black hats ... Archer stumbles, trying to pick the best bad word he can think of. "It can't be published," he concludes. He won't name names. For him it is enough simply to write them down.
One of the things I hadn't mentioned in the debate about militancy was a couple of books by Price Cobbs. One of them is entitled 'Black Rage' and the one published after that is 'Cracking the Corporate Code : From Survival to Mastery'. I've only touched briefly on the subject of black organizational strategies, but I believe very strongly that what black nationalist organizations began in their move on Corporate America has been the most useful source of knowledge accruing to the state of African America. They owe their success to the inroads made by individuals like Lee Archer and others who put their heads down, rose up and offered a hand. I privilege this set of skills over those acquired through the integration of the Civil Service and of the Armed Forces, just so you know up front. I find men like Lee Archer to be heroic and worthy of emulation. He's what I would call an Old School pioneer.
Now how do I make the hookup?