Tuesday, September 08, 2015
Exceptional American of the Day: Thomas Moorehead
In the summer of 2015, Louis Farrakhan, head of the Nation of Islam, announced a 20th anniversary Million Man March on Washington. Thinking he was being civic-minded, Thomas Moorehead, owner of car dealerships and a Harley-Davidson dealership, supported the effort. However, the Nation of Islam is a racist and militant that calls for killing white people and police officers. After an national outrage, Moorehead withdrew his support. It was a rare misstep for a man who climbed out of poverty from a segregated South to rise to become the first black owner of a Rolls-Royce dealership, among many other pioneering accomplishments.
Born in Monroe, Louisiana, in 1944, the eldest of five children, Moorehead learned early on the importance of education. His grandfather, who raised him, said “We don’t have any money, son. So the best thing you can do is move up and become a principal and, if that happens, you would have arrived.”
Moorehead had bigger plans. He wanted to go into business.
”But I told him it was what I wanted to do and I would work very hard to make that dream come true,” he said.
His grandfather then said, “If you’re going to go into business, then, sell things that people will need. They always have to eat, they always have to sleep and they always have to drive. If you get into business with one of those things you may be successful.”
Years later, Moorehead told the Baltimore Afro-American, “I’ve always had those words at the back of my mind, and if he were still alive and could see us today, hopefully, he would be proud that I took his advice.”
Dreaming is easy. Hard work makes it happen. He graduated from Grambling State in 1966 at a time when opportunities for young black men were opening. Graduating with an accounting degree, he moved on to the University of Michigan, earning a master's degree in social work. He worked for corporate America, fixing up houses for resale on the side. A fellow Michigan alumni and car dealer, James Bradley, suggested he sell cars to make big money.
“The reputation of car salesmen and dealers at the time was [of] individuals standing around in plaid knit jackets, smoking cigarettes and talking fast, and that was just not me,” he said.
But he would be among those who would change that image. He spent $65,000 to attend General Motors’ dealership training program. Upon graduation, he bought Sentry Buick and Izusu in Omaha, Nebraska. Bradley mentored him along the way.
Slowly Moorehead moved east. In 1995, he opened Moorehead Buick and GMC in Decatur, Illinois. After selling that dealership and his Omaha dealership off, he moved into Northern Virginia with a BMW and Mini-Cooper dealership. This was a lucrative market thanks to the expansion of the federal government. Later, he became the first black man to own a Rolls Royce dealership.
In 2006, he bought the Marriott Residence Inn in National Harbor, Maryland, the first of six hotels he has bought.
Moorehead and his wife, Joyce, began giving back to the community, setting up a charitable foundation. he served 12 years as president of the National Association of Minority Automobile Dealer. Black Enterprise magazine named him as its Automobile Dealer of the Year in 2007. He helped found African American Network Against Alzheimer’s.
We all make mistakes. The difference in life is whether we learn from them.
I am publishing collections of the best in this series of Exceptional Americans, with the second volume published on September 1.
Which is better? "Exceptional Americans 1" or the new book, "Exceptional Americans 2"?
Buy both and tell me.