Being cast in wax is an ego boost


Honorees: Three Maryland businessmen are the latest figures installed at the Great Blacks in Wax Museum recently.

April 07, 2001|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

When Osborne Payne, a Baltimore entrepreneur and businessman, studied his wax visage Wednesday evening at the Engineers Club in Mount Vernon Place, he thought the cheeks needed a little touching up.

"I must say, it's a new experience. Your ego kind of takes over and you can't help but feel good," he said.

Concerned about what he would look like rendered in wax, he was relieved when his wife came home and gave a thumbs up on the new figure.

"My wife saw it earlier, and came home smiling," he said.

Payne, who was one of the nation's leading African-American fast-food executives until he left the industry in 1997, had owned and operated several McDonald's franchises in Baltimore.

A well-known champion of charitable causes and a role model for the many young people whom he inspired and hired, Payne joins Harlow Fullwood Jr. and Isaac Myers, two other notable black entrepreneurs, whose figures become part of the permanent collection of the Great Blacks in Wax Museum on East North Avenue.

Fullwood, a former city police officer, Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise owner and philanthropist, is also known as the founder of the Fullwood Foundation that generates scholarships for needy students.

It was the entrepreneurial spirit of Isaac Myers that served as a beacon to museum officials and ultimately to the selection of Payne and Fullwood, both living, for inclusion in the museum.

Myers, born in 1835, was the founder in 1865 of the Chesapeake Marine Railway and Drydock Company of Baltimore, and of the nation's first black labor union.

Founded in 1983 by Elmer P. and Joanne Martin, the museum's collection of more than 150 wax figures celebrates the accomplishments and achievements of historical black figures.

"They are part of our entrepreneurial series that tells that story on a local, state and national level," says Joanne Martin.

"Mr. Fullwood and Mr. Payne are certainly deserving of this honor. They were willing to take risks and get into business. They had guts, spirit and the foresight to see that one day franchises would open up and create opportunities for other African-Americans. They truly represent the entrepreneurial spirit in the highest form," she says.

Myers was the proprietor of one of the first independently black-owned businesses in Maryland.

A ship caulker by trade, Myers was inspired to found his own company after a dock strike in 1865 left 1,000 black mechanics and longshoremen unemployed. Organizing a stock company with a small group of blacks, he was able to raise $40,000 and buy a fully equipped shipyard with accompanying marine railway at the foot of Philpot Street in Fells Point.

Myers also insisted that jobs in the yard would be open to all Baltimoreans regardless of color.

Employing several hundred men, Myers was so successful that within three years he was able to retire the company's debt. The yard flourished until 1884, when poor management and competition from more powerful white-owned yards forced its closure. Myers was also instrumental in the establishment of the Colored Businessman's Association, which was composed of skilled workers, longshoreman and waiters who had been displaced from the semi-skilled labor market by European immigrants who had flooded the East Coast. The union met for the first time in Washington in 1869 and held its first job fair in Baltimore in 1888.

Myers also served as a special agent for the Post Office, established a coal company, campaigned for Republican candidates and taught Sunday school at Bethel A.M.E. Church.

Curiously, Wood's Baltimore City Directory listed Myers as a white man in its 1870 edition. A year later, he was returned to the "Colored Persons" section in the back of the directory.

He died Jan. 27, 1891, at his Jefferson Street home in East Baltimore, and was the subject of an extensive obituary in The Sun.

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