In 1955, Mary Alexander became the first Black woman to appear in Coca Cola ads. She booked the job during her junior year at what was then Clark College in Atlanta. A native of Ballplay, Alabama, Mary beat out 75 women to win a modeling job for a new Coca Cola advertising campaign that was aimed at African-Americans. She was paid $600 for a total of 15 ads and paid a full-year's tuition with the money.
As a young child working in the fields with her large family, a Coke had been a treat at the end of a long day. "I had my first Coke at around 7 or 8 years old," Mary told the iconic soda brand in 2013 interview. "After a long, hard day of working on the farm, that was our treat at the end. We'd get an iced cold Coca Cola," she said.
Her ads ran in newspapers and magazines and on billboards on the New York City subways. She went on to have a career as an educator, serving as both a teacher and a high school principal.
According to Coca Cola, her husband Henry Alexander didn't even know he was married to a Coca Cola ad model until three years into their marriage. The company itself also didn't know the identity of their star model for more than 50 years after the photos were taken. The company said it was Mary's humility that left so many in the dark about her groundbreaking appearance in the ads. She didn't have anymore contact with Coca Cola or go on to do any more modeling.
It was by chance that Mary's niece and a friend were looking through old photos when they came across Mary's ads. The two reached out to the company and eventually they got through. Though many claim to be models of the brand from its early years, Mary had luckily kept the letter she got confirming her as the selected model for the ad.
Her ad was displayed in the company's museum in Atlanta, Georgia.
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