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Black History and Ads Don't Mix, Activists Say

Many ads pay tribute to black history without mentioning a product. Toyota ran an ad this month honoring Philip Emeagwali, who in 1975 "theorized the HyperBall International Network of computers. Today, we call it the Internet."

Wal-Mart's ads celebrate the "Buffalo Soldiers." A McDonald's newspaper ad spotlighted exceptional students at Friendship Edison Public Charter School in the District.

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In ads this month in Ebony and Jet magazines, Ford Motor Co. takes credit for improving the lot of black Americans: "Henry Ford recognized the value of a skilled workforce -- regardless of race. And when Ford . . . became the first major corporation to pay African American workers equal pay for equal work, it helped give birth to the Black middle class."

Ford spokesman Mitchell Johnson said the firm was among the first to hire blacks into high-paying jobs, helping to spur the migration of African Americans from the South to the North. "We want to be out there on the forefront because of our heritage of supporting the communities we do business with," he said.

Other ads -- such as the Procter & Gamble ad for Metamucil, Pepto-Bismol and Prilosec -- refer directly to products.

Vince Hudson, marketing director for the company's "GI brands," said the ad was intended to show a connection between the progress blacks have made in society and in their health. "We are celebrating all the contributions African Americans have made and the rich history and traditions," said Hudson, who is black. "This ad is a salute to that from brands that have been there throughout the history, also."

Lawrence Guyot, a civil rights activist who once led the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, said black history "should not be ground into the economic acquisition machine."

Researchers Meg Smith and Bobbye Pratt contributed to this report.


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