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Being Fearless – Pioneering African Americans in the Auto Industry

Last updated on November 4, 2019 at 10:10 am

I’m a firm believer in being fearless. I also value that same quality in others. To celebrate the end of Black History month I’d like to highlight two of the many pioneers of automobile history. In a time when the world was turned upside down, these men fearlessly rode the wave of change.

C.R. Patterson
Patterson’s story started when he escaped a West Virginia plantation in 1862. He made his way to Ohio and found a job as a blacksmith. It wasn’t long before he partnered with a local carriage manufacturer, J.P. Lowe.

After Lowe died, Patterson took over the business and renamed it, “C.R. Patterson & Sons Company.” The company grew to eventually offer about 28 different types of horse-drawn vehicles. Patterson also employed over a dozen workers. Before Patterson died in 1910 he had already experimented with gas-powered “horseless carriages.” His son, Frederick, switched the company to automobile manufacturing with the debut of the Patterson-Greenfield car. It featured a four-cylinder Continental engine, sold for $850, and was comparable to the Ford Model T.

Unfortunately the company was unable to compete with the manufacturing capabilities of Ford. C.R. Patterson & Sons began producing trucks, buses, and other utility vehicles. Their school buses became popular in many Midwestern schools around 1920. Today C.R. Patterson & Sons Company is considered the world’s first and only African-American owned and founded automobile company. Few of their vehicles still exist but those that do can be found in several museums in the Midwest.

Homer Roberts
Roberts moved to Kansas City in 1919. The graduate of Kansas State Agricultural College and veteran of World War I who achieved the rank of lieutenant in the Army Signal Corps began placing ads in the local paper advertising seven used cars. Before the end of that same year, Roberts had negotiated over 60 car sales exclusively for African-American buyers. He soon hired two salesman, offered insurance to buyers, and later founded Roberts Motors, the first African-American-owned car dealership in the United States.

His success helped Roberts land a Ford franchise that grew to feature an auto repair shop, parts store, and a 60-car showroom. By 1925, his dealership was ranked third in the United States for its sales of the Rickenbacker and he later opened a second dealership in Chicago. Due to the Great Depression and World War II, Roberts rejoined the military. Following his discharge he returned to Chicago and worked in public relations until his death in 1952.

The stories of C.R. Patterson and Homer Roberts are truly inspiring. They show that just because something hasn’t happened doesn’t mean it can’t happen. Do you have a story about being fearless? Plymouth Rock wants to hear about it – leave you comments below!

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