February is Black History Month in the United States, and I thought you might be interested in a story about one of our first African-American models.

While Coke had featured African-American celebrities and athletes in ads, a model named Mary Cowser (today Mary Alexander) was one of the first non-celebrity African-American women to appear in our ads.

Mary_alexander_w8826_2I’ve mentioned that at the New World of Coca-Cola our historical display area is called “Milestones of Refreshment.” In one of the displays, we feature this poster with Ms. Alexander, from 1957.

Ms. Alexander had been a junior at Clark College in Atlanta in 1955 when Coke came to campus to find models for a new print campaign. Ms. Alexander’s dorm housemother encouraged her to try out and she was selected as one of the featured models in a program that appeared in newspapers, magazines and posters. In all, she appeared in more than 10 ads for Coke, appearing with fellow students from Clark and Morehouse College (also in Atlanta). She earned enough money in her first year modeling for Coke to pay that year’s tuition.

Mary_alexander_ars03468The ads appeared in magazines such as Ebony, in New York subway ads and on billboards across the country. Ms. Alexander said her brother saw one of her billboards while driving in Mississippi, but no one believed that was really his sister!

Ms. Alexander graduated from Clark in 1956, becoming a teacher and principal. She did not model again, but we were able to bring her to Atlanta in August for a trip to the World of Coca-Cola – and an appearance on the Steve Harvey radio show broadcast from the attraction!

I was thrilled to meet her in person, and we were all grateful to hear her story.