Wilsons: Paving trails for Black, female dealers

In the early 1960s, before Porterfield started selling cars, he helped build them at a Chrysler-Plymouth factory in Detroit on the night shift and had a part-time side hustle during the day as a pharmacy clerk, recalled Joe Gordon, a longtime family friend who was once the couple’s Pontiac sales manager.

It was during his day job that Porterfield made connections that led to him selling cars at a Detroit Chrysler-Plymouth dealership. Gordon called Porterfield a “super salesman” who did so well that someone at General Motors noticed and offered him a dealership.

The city’s Black clientele was responsive because Porterfield was one of the few Black salesmen around, “and they liked the idea of buying from one of their own,” said Gordon, who at 84 is still selling cars, at Crestmont Cadillac in suburban Cleveland.

In December 1970, Porterfield landed his Pontiac dealership, which was in a converted storefront in Detroit that required reinforcements in the basement to support the showroom floor, Gordon recalled. Porterfield later added GMC and moved his store to a bigger location formerly occupied by another Pontiac dealership.

When the Wilsons were awarded their Honda franchise in March 1979, Barbara became the first Black woman to appear in a manufacturer’s sales and service agreement as a dealer principal, wrote Rusty Restuccia, author of the website A History of African-American New Car Dealers. Barbara managed the store day to day, Restuccia wrote.

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