In an effort to commemorate his influence on the world, Zion Baptist Church unveiled a state historical marker honoring the late Rev. Leon Sullivan on Monday afternoon in North Philadelphia.
The marker stands on the Broad Street side of the church and reads: “The Lion of Zion led the Selective Patronage Movement, opening thousands of jobs to Blacks nationwide. He promoted the philosophy of self-help, creating organizations to educate and train minorities. The Global Sullivan Principles, codes of conduct for equal opportunities and human rights, factored prominently in negotiations to end apartheid in South Africa. Awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, he pastored at Zion Baptist for 37 years.”
“The marker means a lot for the church,” said Dr. Mildred Fitzgerald Johnson, Zion historian. “This is history. [And] the reason I wanted this done is because we have a marker that now really is very, very special and it speaks to our love for him and his work and it’s still guiding us in our daily activities.”
During the program that preceded the unveiling, elected officials, clergy and men and women from the community lauded Sullivan as a leader who showed his love for Black people and interest in Black empowerment in tangible ways, creating opportunities through businesses — Progress Plaza; organizations — the Opportunities Industrialization Center; financial programs — Zion Investment Associates; and youth programs and schools.
With the Selective Patronage initiative, Sullivan spurred a cooperative of 400 ministers “to instruct their congregations not to buy certain products to challenge discrimination,” according to a Zion timeline of Sullivan’s accomplishments.
“We are here today because the Lion of Zion is still roaring from the grave,” said the Rev. William B. Moore of Tenth Memorial Baptist Church. “His work still lives on and still inspires all of us. Dr. Sullivan taught us what it means to minister to those on the fringes of life, that those that hurt the most should be helped the most. That was the mantra that Dr. Sullivan lived by.”
U.S. Rep. Dwight Evans (D-2) said he remembers Sullivan as far back as his childhood and that Sullivan’s community development efforts, including the shopping center Progress Plaza, inspired some of his own when he was a state representative serving West Oak Lane.
“As a 10-year-old, I could never understand the impact he would have in my life,” he said. “He just didn’t talk about it. He showed it through action.”
Former Mayor Wilson Goode Sr. said today’s elected officials and pastors should follow Sullivan’s example.
“I was pleased to live in a time he led and watch his achievement and watch his work,” he said. “There are few people who have done more … than Leon Sullivan. We need people … in public service and churches to use this as a model in terms of what can be done to change the world.”
— Tribune staff writer Phillip Jackson contributed to this report.