Like many companies during the 1950s, Birmingham Coca-Cola Bottling Company didn’t feel the need to spend time marketing to the black consumer. That is until 1954, when Jesse Lewis Sr. explained what a big mistake that was and led our company to successful campaigns in an entirely new market. Jesse’s work-ethic and dedication received quick results – and soon celebrities like Willie Mays and the Harlem Globetrotters were contributing to his ads! Since this was all done before the Civil Rights Movement, Jesse faced challenges and broke barriers on a constant basis. This includes hiring Mary Alexander, the first African-American female model for a Coke ad, and having to create new spaces for his ads after white-run newspapers refused to display them.
Changing the path of Birmingham Coca-Cola Bottling Company is only a part of Jesse Lewis Sr.’s great legacy. The business he founded to work with companies like ours was the first minority-owned PR firm in the county. A decade after beginning his PR work, Jesse founded the Birmingham Times, a newspaper that sought to highlight the accomplishments of black individuals in the middle of our country’s massive civil rights unrest and still runs to this day. While many newspapers either focused solely on protests or only wrote articles about black citizens when they committed a crime, the Birmingham Times sought to preserve the positive moments that weren’t being recorded.
Needless to say, we’re very thankful for Jesse Lewis Sr. and can’t think of a more deserving individual for such a noble honor. Thank you, Jesse, for doing so much for our company and many others. You are an American hero.