Thursday, August 10, 2017

TBT: One Of America's First Black Car Dealers

Edward Davis, who secured a Studebaker franchise in the early 40s, became the first black inductee into the Automotive Hall of Fame.

Davis, who was one of the first blacks to acquire a new car franchise, took a non traditional path.

With his entrepreneurial drive an inability to break into corporate America due to racial barriers, Davis opened up a service garage in Detroit. Soon after, his drive and ability caught the eye of one of his customers, who happened to be a supervisor at one of Dodge's plants. 

Ironically, in the late 30s, the supervisor's son opened up a new Dodge dealership and Davis would eventually land a job that would set his career in motion.

Being that Davis was a black man and had a yearning to sell cars, he was forced to set his office on the second floor of the Dodge dealership away from other sales professionals, who offices were located on the main floor of the showroom. Despite this obstacle, Davis became the dealership's sales leader.

In 1938, he opened up his own non franchise dealership, selling used cars and brokering new car deals through white salesmen.  Just like at the car wash, when he caught the attention of one his customers, the same happened at his independent dealership. This time the executives at Studebaker took note, making him the first black person to a new car franchise, in 1940. Davis remained a dealer with the franchise until 1956, when they eventually went bankrupt. 

After the bankruptcy, he found himself pounding the pavement for years knocking on the door of the 'Detroit Three,' GM, Ford and Chrysler. No one would give him an opportunity. This was due mainly to the color of his skin. Finally, in 1963 Chrysler broker ranks, offering the driven goal-setter a Chrysler-Plymouth franchise. Davis, who passed away in 1999, remained a dealer until his retirement in the early 70s.

For additional information on other black dealers, click here.

(Source: Automotive Hall of Fame)

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