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Authors: Stephen; Birmingham

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Leonard Evans's wife's family is similarly rooted and well based. Though his wife's grandfather was illegitimate, his father was a Civil War general, who acknowledged him and had him prepared for admission to the United States Military Academy at West Point. He was accepted but, because of a slightly deformed hand, he was turned down when he arrived at the Academy. He returned to St. Louis, where he became a school teacher. One of Mrs. Evans's great-grandfathers was also a fur trapper and also prosperous, until he was drowned on the Mississippi River. His children were all well educated, and Mrs. Evans's father, a Chicago doctor, was medical director of the black Liberty Life Insurance Company. “In Chicago, both my wife's family and mine were part of the black Establishment,” Evans says. “We were the Uncle Toms—intelligent, urban for several generations, very clannish, light-skinned but antiwhite. There were never any white people at our dances or coming-out parties. The trouble is, our group has no leadership. Black leadership is preoccupied with the poor, and the militants can't produce what they promise. There have always been poor people, and there always will be. Sixty percent of the urban blacks are in the middle class, but the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Segregation would have worked, if they'd only segregated the money. But they segregated everything
the money. Ninety-eight percent of the money is still controlled by whites, and there's been a white gentlemen's agreement: Never give a contract to a Negro.”

Still, Leonard Evans has done all right. Ten years ago, he launched
, a black supplement that now appears in twenty-three newspapers and twenty-five markets with a monthly circulation of nearly 5,000,000. Evans estimates the current worth of his company at between $10,000,000 and $12,000,000, and is currently planning to break into television. The Evanses have a large apartment in Chicago's Hancock Tower, and a winter home in Tucson. The Evanses have two grown sons, and the older, Leonard, Jr., is lighter-skinned than either of his parents. As a young teenager, he faced the crisis common to many light-skinned blacks—a crisis of Who Am I? Because of the color of his skin, he was rejected by both blacks and whites, and one day he came home from school and asked his father, “Dad, what are colored people?” His father replied, “We are.” The boy thought a moment, and then said, “Well, maybe you are, but Mom and I aren't.” For a while, to the distress of his parents, he went through a period of rebellion—with a Honda, leather jacket, boots, growing a beard and shoulder-length hair. “But eventually the genetic qualities began to emerge,” says his father, and the older boy, now twenty-nine, is in charge of his father's television venture. The younger son, Midian, was sent to a white preparatory school in New England and then, for balance, to Howard University. Today, he is in charge of
's financial operations.

“I've tried to instill in both my sons a sense of pride, of deep family pride,” Evans says. “It's a rich mixture that they come from, and I've tried to make them aware of it. Even if some of their ancestors were slaves, they can be proud of that, too. After all, it was the Negro slaves who developed the cotton industry, one of the greatest industries in the country.”

But pride is not undiluted with a certain bitterness, and the one terrible blemish in his family's past haunts him, and is something, clearly, that he can never forgive or forget. “My mother is ninety-one now,” he says, “and she's never told me who her father was. She knows, of course, because her mother told her. I suppose I'll never know. All she'll say was that it was a man ‘from a great retailing family.' One of the Rosenwalds, do you suppose—the Sears, Roebuck family? They were German Jews. Were any of them blond, with blue eyes? It's a terrible thing when you have to tell your sons that their grandmother was illegitimate. At least I can tell them that I put out more magazines in a year than Sears, Roebuck puts out catalogues.”



It is clear that if there is one thing that is wanting among the educated, prospering, and upwardly mobile black middle-to-upper class it is any sort of
. It is difficult to find two articulate blacks who agree on anything. In Chicago, some people take John Johnson's side in the Johnson-Johnson rivalry, and others take George Johnson's. Still others feel that their dispute—over such matters as the placement of advertising and variously priced cosmetic lines—is silly or, worse, self-destructive to both these talented men in its sheer pettiness. Some would agree with Leonard Evans on the value he places on the genetic enrichment of white blood. Others would consider Evans a snob of the worst sort, and point out that Evans's white-ancestor pride seems an odd contradiction to his apparent shame about his mother's illegitimacy. Still other blacks think that ancestor worship—or even ancestor talk—is foolish in the extreme. “How,” asks one man, “can you be proud of circumstances over which you had no control?” In the black world, the whole problem of illegitimacy is a knotty one and produces, in some people, a kind of schizophrenia, and an inability to decide which identity to embrace. In Chicago, however, at least one black woman is fiercely proud of being illegitimate.

Barbara Proctor, still in her thirties, is a beautiful, mocha-colored woman, who, in a few short years, has risen from relatively little to the point where she is now president and sole owner of Proctor & Gardner Advertising, Inc., the largest black advertising agency in the world, with annual billings of over $4,000,000. (“I'm Proctor and
I'm Gardner. My maiden name was Gardner. I had a less than admirable reason for naming my agency—I felt Procter & Gamble deserves a little inconvenience. Besides, I had had to change my name to get in the business.”)

Among Chicago's successful blacks, Barbara Proctor is noted for her blunt outspokenness (“She's a terror!” says one black businessman), and has a reputation as a firebrand, a stirrer-up of controversy, and as a rebel with a cause. The cause is herself and her son—fourteen-year-old Morgan—for the most part. “I'm a chronic embarrassment to my mother,” she says. “My mother still lives in Washington, still works in the Pentagon. My younger sister goes to ballet school, does a little charity work—my mother thinks that's what
little colored girls should do. Not start a business like mine. Not go to the office every day, and leave my son at home with sitters. Not be a mover and doer, like me. It's foolhardy to be a rebel and not be economically free. Without money, there is no survival, and without survival, there is no change. And those bottomless blacks can't help you. To succeed, you have to play footsie with the white Establishment.”

Barbara Proctor is convinced that her illegitimacy gave her a head start in life. “I know a lot of dominating people,” she says, “and many of them are illegitimate. My illegitimacy planted an aggressive determination in me that others didn't have. It gave me drive, and also a sense of balance. I had no great striving need to prove who I was in terms of family, which is such a waste of time, but I did learn that if I could do a white girl's homework for her, she would be my friend; I was clear on the realities.” She adds, “Of course I believe in a cohesive family unit. I
one. I was reared by my grandmother. We were a very close-knit little family. That's a thing about blacks: we don't neglect our own. No one is ever homeless. We look out for each other. Like crazy old Miss Tillie down the street, who was always running away. Whenever Miss Tillie ran away, we'd just go out and look for her and bring her back. Another woman I used to know had a drug-addict son. She said, ‘He may be a snake, but he's

Too many wealthy or upper-class blacks, Barbara Proctor feels, “have adopted the negative aspects of elitism—the ostentatious things, the jewels, the big cars, the big apartments and houses.” Recently Barbara Proctor read somewhere that there has been a marked increase in the number of black nursing homes. “Think of that,” she says. “Black nursing homes! That would never have been the case
when I was growing up. Even if we could afford it, we wouldn't
of shoving our old people into nursing homes. Nursing homes are another negative part of this new elitism. I say to my black friends, ‘Economically we move up, but morally we move down.' Needless to say, they don't like to hear that sort of thing.”

Sitting in her large, untramodern corner office high above Chicago, stylishly—but not ostentatiously—dressed in a silver pants suit from I. Magnin, Barbara Proctor likes to talk about how Proctor & Gardner Advertising, Inc., came into being. She has always been relentlessly ambitious, and managed, in four years, to graduate with three degrees—a bachelor's in education, English and sociology. For a while, she taught school, worked as a social worker and for a real estate agency. She had always wanted to be a writer, “But my writing needed discipline. I needed to learn to say what I had to say concisely, and briefly.” So she went to work as a writer-producer in an agency. A jazz enthusiast, she worked also as a contributing editor for
, wrote a couple of television specials, produced a column for a South Side newspaper, and contributed to seven different books on jazz. “I sort of tumbled into advertising,” she says. “Working with radio, I realized that our impression of America is projected through the media, and that advertising and merchandising control a great deal of what we think about.” She also realized that all the media rating services were run by whites, that white researchers were afraid to go into black ghettos with their questionnaires, and that the questionnaires, usually prepared by whites, bore no relation to what blacks wanted, did, or thought about. “They'd send out a questionnaire that said, ‘Do you, when you go out dancing, prefer to (a) waltz, (b) foxtrot, (c) jitterbug.' Black people don't dance any of those things!”

So she began to think in terms of a black advertising agency that would reach blacks in a way that related to their special needs. “I knew that the chances of a black agency surviving were remote,” she says. “Others had tried it, and failed miserably. I was also told that it took at least a million dollars to start an agency, and I know that major credit is always nearly impossible to get. I started out trying to borrow two hundred thousand. I managed to get a loan of eighty thousand. Talk about black businesses being under-capitalized! Oddly enough, they never asked me whether I'd had any black advertising agency experience. I hadn't. Most black agencies start out with too many small accounts. I wanted just a few big ones, and
started with four—Jewel Food Stores, a major chain, Sears of Chicago, and, nationally, Kraft Foods for the black community—products like Parkay, Miracle Whip mayonnaise and Barbeque Sauce—and Gillette, with portions of their Personal Care and Paper Mate division.”

The little company—consisting of Barbara Proctor, her account man, her art director, and her media director—started out in a third-floor walk-up. “From May 1970 to February 1971, we existed on twenty-six thousand dollars,” Barbara Proctor says. “It was life on a principle. We worked nights and weekends. The problem was always what to do until the check comes. We managed by revolving checks—depositing one check to offset one we'd just written, then writing another against the deposit. It worked, thank God, for six months—the checks went in and out of banks so fast that even the banks got confused.” By April 1971, however, Proctor & Gardner Advertising, Inc., was able to move into its handsome new offices, and the staff now numbers twenty-two. “The white agencies
us,” she says. “Much of the power structure really doesn't want us to exist. You see, we're dealing with whites who've never had to come to grips with blacks before. We've had to be a half-jump ahead of the white—and to get out of the way before the gun goes off. White companies still take a wait-and-see, time-will-tell attitude, even though we've been in business now for longer than any other black agency has. We still have a severe credit problem. Because we're black we have to pay
on the nose
. If we don't, they'll go right to the accounts, personally, an insult they would never impose on a white agency. I'm under extreme pressure—the same pressure that's on all black businesses.”

Interestingly, many of Proctor & Gardner's creative staff are white. “A black agency has to pay
for good black talent,” Barbara Proctor says. “That's because a talented black can always get a good job in one of the big, prestige shops. So we rely on aggressive young white talent that wants to start in advertising, and is willing to work for a lower salary. We'll eventually lose these kids, of course, but we'll hope to fill their ranks with bright new faces fresh from college.”

Barbara Proctor also says, “We have to work with other black businesses, of course; many of them are hostile. They are not eager for us to succeed, either. It's difficult to get blacks to cooperate in a venture because they don't trust each other. So many of the black middle class want to buy the things that are ‘like the white folks'.' I
want to guide people to
buy black
. Of course, if I wouldn't comment on the things I see going on around me—the hypocrisy, the snobbery, the suspicion—I might be doing even better than I am.”

Barbara Proctor admits that her voracious striving for success has cost her a great deal in terms of her personal life. She has divorced her husband, a road manager for Sarah Vaughan. Their only son has little interest in this business. “I asked him if he would like to take over the business one day and he said ‘Never!' It's because the business has taken so much family time. He'll never be an ordinary boy, just as I am not an ordinary woman. He paints well, and he wants to be an artist, and he seems to think that when he's ready he'll move right into the white world, but he'll find out soon enough that it's more difficult than talent and desire. Racism will become a reality.”

BOOK: Certain People
11.98Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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