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Car salesman is ‘making Milwaukee a better place,’ even as he turns 80

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GLENDALE -- As FOX6 News celebrates Black History Month, we highlight trailblazers in the African-American community. For one veteran black car salesman, the journey to success has not always been a smooth ride.

At Andrew Chevrolet in Glendale, it is the cars that draw customers to the showroom floor. But for many, it is the care that keeps them coming back.

Oscar Johnson has been embracing customers and selling cars for more than a half century.

"My belief is developing a relationship. If you sell one car, you shouldn't stop there," Johnson said.

Oscar Johnson

Johnson has actually been selling Chevrolets since 1967 -- when Lyndon B. Johnson was president.

Oscar Johnson

"I'm very pleased with what I do," Johnson said.

FOX6's Aaron Maybin caught up with Johnson, 79, on his first day back from a brief medical leave. With a Bible and his wife's photograph nearby, his desk shows what decades in the same business looks like.

"He's kind of an idol of mine," said Andrew Schlesinger, president of Andrew Automotive Group.

Andrew Schlesinger

Schlesinger has known Johnson for more than 40 years.

"He's had an impact in helping others and making Milwaukee a better place," Schlesinger said.

Johnson is a pioneering African-American in automotive sales. He is one of the first blacks to sell vehicles in the state. He also made it his mission to mentor young salesmen of all backgrounds -- like J.C. Matthews.

"You make me want to be a better person and a better salesman. You've helped mold me into the person that I am," Matthews said.

Oscar Johnson

Johnson's early career came with more than a few bumps in the road.

"It took at little while for people to accept me because I was a different color from people they'd be dealing with," Johnson said.

Johnson remembers his first job interview at another dealership in the 1960s.

Oscar Johnson

"They told me that when you come here, I want you to go through the back door," Johnson said.

That was something not unusual for that time.

"The other sales people were all Caucasian people. They didn't want them seeing them talking to me," Johnson said.

Johnson got the job, but was soon confronted by racism.

"The way that I was treated and the things that were said to me -- even she doesn't really know," Johnson said.

Jimmie Ruth Johnson

It was Johnson's wife, Jimmie Ruth Johnson, who often offered words of encouragement.

"At first, it was kind of hard," Jimmie Ruth Johnson said.

"I would come home and tell her. Then she would say. 'You can handle it. Go back,'" Johnson said.

Oscar Johnson with wife, Jimmie Ruth Johnson

That support and a resounding faith helped fuel the seasoned salesman. Hanging on the walls of his Brown Deer home are some of his greatest achievements and awards for his hard work.

"This is a story that they did on my life about my involvement in the community," Johnson said.

The community keeps him in mind.

"I get referrals from pastors. I get referrals from nightclub owners," Johnson said.

Oscar Johnson has persevered -- overcoming adversity to build a successful career with a persistence and passion that runs deep.

Oscar Johnson

"Fifty years later, he is succeeding every day," Schlesinger said.

Johnson turns 80 years old next month.

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