From demanding corporations to expand procurement opportunities for Black-owned companies to advocating for the elevation of African American executives to C-Suite and corporate board positions, Black Enterprise Founder and Publisher was the nation’s strongest voice for leveling the business playing field. He also served, however, as one of the driving forces for racial justice over the past five decades.
The NAACP Spingarn Medal recipient used his role as a bully pulpit to speak out against racial injustice, including economic, educational and healthcare disparities. Throughout the years, he rallied millions of readers with his Publisher’s Page column to fight for such issues as voting rights and corporate divestment from Apartheid-era South Africa, among other matters. In fact, he had been arrested in protests against policy brutality after the 1999 shooting death of Amadou Diallo, an unarmed black man who was killed after four New York City police officers fired a total of 41 shots.
One of the major influences that fueled his unyielding advocacy was one of the founding fathers of the Civil RIghts Movement : Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Graves passed away on April 6 — two days after the 52nd anniversary of King’s death.
When Graves graduated from Morgan State University in 1958 —three years after the seminal Montgomery Bus Boycott on Alabama—King delivered what was described as a rousing speech to the school’s graduates. Graves was inspired by King’s powerful oratory. Framing his speech that a “New Age” of activism was chipping away at Jim Crow in America, King charged the MSU graduates to “work passionately and unrelentingly for first-class citizenship…and go out, not as detached spectators, but individuals in the struggle, ready to cooperate with God, ready to cooperate with the forces of the universe, and make the new world a reality.”
After a decade of stirring the national conscience with his message of nonviolent change and playing a pivotal role in the passage of landmark civil rights and voting rights legislation, King had been slain by an assassin’s bullet in 1968. By then an administrative assistant for Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, Graves was assigned to assist Corretta Scott King, in transporting the body of the widow’s husband from Memphis to Atlanta as well as help with funeral arrangements. Two months later, he would escort Scott King to Kennedy’s funeral after the senator was assassinated during his run for the US presidency.
He wrote of the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize recipient in a 2012 Publisher’s Page column: “I know intimately the personal sacrifice that King made based on the promise of future generations.”
In the following video clip from Our World with Black Enterprise on the 40th anniversary of the civil rights leader’s death That aired in 2008, Graves offers his personal reflection on King and his lasting impact.