By Isoul H. Harris
Before and after the civil rights era, how many companies can we count were at the forefront of the movement to incorporate African Americans, not just as soldiers or consumers, but as creators, trendsetters, and working contributors to the economy?
Herb Douglas, Fab 5 Freddy, Nas, and countless others create the fabric that is Hennessy as we know it today … and it is no coincidence. For over a century, Hennessy has boldly and deliberately embraced what was initially considered an untouchable segment of the American population. It’s a vibrant brand with a very loyal following. Few know the full story of Hennessy Cognac’s history, craftsmanship, and family legacy — or how the brand has become so embedded in today’s lexicon of pop culture.
This year, the story of Olympic Medalist, Jesse Owens’s mentee, and former Hennessy employee, Herb Douglas, truly sticks out. Here are a few reasons why:
- Carrying out the spirit of Hennessy’s “Never Stop. Never Settle.” mantra, Douglas competed in track and field before many sports were open to African Americans.
- Douglas won the Bronze Medal in the long jump while representing the U.S. in the 1948 Summer Olympics in London.
- After his athletic career, he became a salesman in the beverage industry.
- In 1968, Douglas became one of the first African-American VPs in corporate America after Hennessy promoted him to vice president.
- Today, at 94, Douglas is the oldest living African-American Olympian.
- On April 27th, Douglas will continue to champion African-American luminaries by presenting special awards to Serena Williams and Muhammad Ali at the Jesse Owens International Trophy Gala in New York City.
Details of Douglas’s amazing career, along with those of the many other African Americans who’ve contributed to Hennessy’s mainstay in pop culture, are also featured in Rizzoli’s latest coffee table book: Hennessy: A Toast to the World’s Preeminent Spirit written by Glenn O’Brien. How has Hennessy evolved over time, touching everyone from African-American and hip hop communities to some of the world’s most prominent artists and artisans? From 1960s ad executives, literally the real life Mad Men, to the most cutting edge creatives of today, Hennessy Cognac has a deep and enduring place in American culture, which is something the book explores in-depth.
A great way to celebrate Black History Month, Hennessy is available wherever fine books are sold.