In 1917, industry car dealers established its own national organization to represent their views on a multitude of issues, whether it was dealing with the manufacturer, state, or federal agencies. The National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) has grown to be a powerful force in the automotive industry. At that time, Automotive News reported that there were "137 carmakers and 15,000 dealers". The group was, and remains, highly pro-active in all aspects of the business with considerable political clout.
Ed Davis remembers "attending NADA but there was little dialogue with me and I stopped going." Al Johnson experienced the same thing. No African-American has ever been elected to NADA's Board of Directors. However, in 1998, Larry Brown (Ford/Toyota) and Carl Barnett (GM/Ford), were selected as "At large" Members of the Board with the objective of having them represent ethnic minority dealer views.
Since there were so few minority dealers, there was little opportunity to establish their own organization and converse on issues specific to ethnic minorities. Johnson recalls that "in Chicago, if we wanted to meet, we couldn't fill a telephone booth." But 1970 witnessed a new beginning. The Reverend Jesse L. Jackson, Chairperson of Operation Breadbasket in Chicago, had concluded that it was important for the industry minority dealers to come together and speak with one voice in facing off with the manufacturers.
On June 12, 1970, a meeting was held in Chicago to pursue such a venture but the dozen or so dealers in attendance concluded that it was not politically in their best interests to do so. Sixty days later, however, they changed their minds and met in St. Louis and formed NBADA, the National Black Dealer Association. Nathan Conyers was elected its first president.
Because of the constant turnover and a lack of funding, NBADA was an organization in name only with little influence. That changed in 1980. The following sections provide insights as to the formation of the various ethnic minority dealer associations which were pioneered by African-Americans.