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LEGACY: James A. Perkins, FedEx’s first African American SVP and chief human resources officer

No African American had ever been a senior vice president or a chief human resources officer at FedEx before James A. Perkins, who passed away this week.

“He was a very tough act to follow,” said Janie Mennis of FedEx. “I had the pleasure of working with Jim my entire HR (human resources) career at FedEx until he retired. The HR Department made a lot of accomplishments, innovations, and futuristic changes under his leadership. He was well-respected by everyone.”

Barbara Perkins announced her husband’s passing on social media Monday afternoon.

FedEx released this reflection on Mr. Perkins:

“Jim Perkins stands as a towering figure in the history of FedEx. A son of Memphis and a trailblazer for the African American community, he joined us during our formative years and quickly rose to the top ranks of executive leadership. During his quarter-century with the company and as our chief personnel officer until his retirement in 1999, Jim’s innovative ideas helped establish the people-focused culture and philosophy of promoting from within that remain cornerstones of our business today. We remember Jim fondly, and our thoughts are with his family and friends at this difficult time.”

Mr. Perkins came aboard FedEx in the early 1970s and began an impressive climb through the ranks of human resource management en route to making history as the first African-American senior vice-president and chief human resources officer.

He grew up in Orange Mound, where he starred in both basketball and football at Melrose High School. After graduating, he attended Tuskegee University in Tuskegee, Ala.

At one of the nation’s most iconic and historic HBCUs during the American Civil Rights Movement, Mr. Perkins came into contact with many notable leaders as determined people pressed for change.

Mr. Perkins distinguished himself on the football field for Tuskegee. Upon graduation, he was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force. Demonstrating courage and leadership in Vietnam, Mr. Perkins was promoted to captain, serving in a combat-support squadron in Southeast Asia.

After leaving the military, he worked briefly in sales and operations management for a small company before landing at FedEx.

Mr. Perkins led the workforce during a pivotal time of explosive, corporate growth. Under his leadership, the company touted an award-winning workforce, being cited frequently as “One of the Best Places to Work.”

After his retirement, Mr. Perkins enjoyed traveling with his wife, his children and grandchildren, according to Mrs. Perkins’ post. One of his favorite places was his farm in Holly Springs, Miss.

Long-time friends, former classmates and many others who knew him in various capacities noted those relationships and their sentiments through social media posts to Mr. Perkins’ family.

Local entrepreneur Lawrence Wayne, wrote: “He was a tall, proud, and fierce warrior back in the day. You knew whenever Big Jim was in the house. We used to call him ‘the black Fred Smith.’ I am so sorry for your loss.”

Harold Byrd, a founder of the Bank of Bartlett, said: “I was saddened to read of Big Jim’s passing. Not only was he a great leader, but he was also a great guy.”

Final arrangements were pending at TSD deadline.

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