Photo caption: Marian Barnett Cullers
She was Co-founder of the first full-service advertising agency targeted to Black consumers
This year on Good Friday, April 7, 2023, we lost one of the anchors of her family, the Black community, and the Chicago business society, Marian Barnett Cullers, at age 96. Marian was a powerful strategist, creative leader, and a history-making mover and shaker. With all her successes, those who knew her well realized that her favorite titles were wife, mother, and grandmother.
Marian grew up in Champaign-Urbana and Mattoon, IL where her family served as leaders of a strong group of supporters for the Black students and athletes attending the University of Illinois. Marian Barnett was born in 1927 in Webster Grove, MO. She attended Douglass High School, Lincoln University, and she transferred and graduated from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1945. In 1946, Marian met and later married Vincent T. Cullers, and moved to his hometown of Chicago where the future history makers opened their first business venture, an art studio, in 1947. They started their family and sons, Vincent Terry and Jeffery Bryan were quickly aware that their parents were on track to doing great things for this world. The entire family was seen together at church, at political events, at conventions, and at social functions for their friends, family, and neighbors.
Life changed when Marian recognized that her husband’s vision for business meant becoming owners of the first full-service advertising agency targeted to Black consumers. Marian led the administrative department while her husband negotiated contracts that propelled the Vince Cullers Advertising Agency to the history books forever. The agency opened in 1956 and they landed their huge national client in 1968. Later that year, history was made when Vince Cullers Advertising was hired to create marketing campaigns for Johnson Products, specifically their Afro-Sheen brands. The entire world learned about Black pride with the slogan, “Wantu Wazuri…”
Marian served as Vice-President for the advertising agency. During her illustrious career, she was honored many times, most notably as a finalist for Chicago Advertising Woman of the Year. She also served on the Women’s Board of Today’s Black Women’s Expo. She is credited with working to ensure that images of Black people were presented in a positive manner in the advertising created by the agency. This diligence was a natural result of the same dedication shown by Marian Cullers throughout her entire life. She proceeded to quietly participate in the 1997 rebranded version of the agency, The Vince Cullers Group, which has been led by her son, Jeffery Cullers, since 2002. This agency has been dubbed the “oldest, newest African-American advertising agency.”
Working at the agency was only a portion of Marian’s life and focus. She served as an Elder at Crerar Memorial Presbyterian Church and later enjoyed worshipping with her family at Sixth Grace Presbyterian Church. She lent her support to cultural arts and efforts to support and prioritize the Black community. She had many friends, colleagues, associates, and fans. Marian set the standard for women to be supportive and independent in business, culture, church, and community. Marian loved her life and appreciated simple things like a plate from a barbeque or a girls get together with a few friends. She was a lady who impacted millions with her dignity and her passions.
Marian is predeceased by her loving husband, Vincent Cullers. She leaves to cherish her memories Sons: Vincent “Terry” Cullers, II, Jeffery Bryan Cullers (Carmelita), Grandsons: Jeffery “Bryan” Cullers, Jr., (Jamila), Devyn Patrick Cullers (Rosie); Cousins: Barbara Suggs Mason (Frederick), Danny Suggs (Cathy), Ramona Suggs Winrow (William) and their children; and a host of in-laws, additional cousins, extended family, and many friends.
In lieu of flowers, Marian’s request was to make contributions in her name to her beloved adopted church Sixth Grace Presbyterian Church.