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Calvin "Kern" Grimes

Entrepreneur Calvin “Kern” Grimes was born on January 12, 1940 in Boston, Massachusetts to Calvin Grimes, Sr. and Marguerite Grimes. The same year, his father founded Grimes Oil Company, which grew to become the largest and oldest minority owned and operated oil company in New England. Grimes grew up in Roxbury and Dorchester, Massachusetts, and graduated from Brighton High School in 1958.

Upon graduating from high school, Grimes began working in his father’s business. In 1958, the company expanded to a second truck, which was driven by Grimes. In 1969, the company was incorporated as Grimes Oil Company, Inc., and Grimes assumed the role of president and chief executive officer. Throughout the following decade, he led the company’s transition from a residential gas supplier to supplying corporations that included the Polaroid Corporation and Raytheon Company. In 1979, Grimes Oil Company, Inc. reported $30 million in sales. By 1988, Grimes Oil Company, Inc. had opened offices in New York City, Newark, San Francisco, and Miami. However, the company faced financial difficulties in the 1980s after two major clients failed to pay their debts, and Grimes negotiated a deal with its suppliers that allowed the company to continue to remain in business. In 1993, the company joined Intergy, Inc., a conglomeration that included Captree Chemicals and Aimtek Gas Company that invested in redevelopment projects in Roxbury, Massachusetts.

In 1979, Grimes Oil Company, Inc. appeared on Black Enterprise’s list of top black owned businesses in the country and was ranked at number nine. The company was also named in 1989 on the magazine’s list of “Companies to Watch in the 1990s.”

In addition to his career, Grimes was active with the Union Methodist Church, Prince Hall Mason, the Boys and Girls Club in Boston, and the Dimcock Community Health Center Foundation. The Grimes Oil Company also created a partnership with WGBH Boston in 1984 to fund programming for African Americans.

Grimes and his wife, Cheryl Grimes, have five children: Darlene M.C. Grimes, Lori B. Grimes, Kern Mitchell Grimes, Ashley Smallwood-Grimes, and C. Trevor Grimes.

Calvin “Kern” Grimes was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on August 17, 2017.

Accession Number




Archival Photo 1
Interview Date


Last Name


Maker Category

David A. Ellis Elementary School

Henry Lee Higginson Elementary School

Martin Luther King, Jr. K-8 Inclusion School

Brighton High School

First Name


Birth City, State, Country




Favorite Season




Favorite Vacation Destination


Favorite Quote

Have A Great Day

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Interview Description
Birth Date


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Speakers Bureau Region City

Martha's Vineyard



Favorite Food

Sirloin Steak With All The Fixings, Fish

Short Description

Entrepreneur Calvin “Kern” Grimes (1940 - ) served as president of Grimes Oil Company, featured on Black Enterprise magazine’s list of top black-owned businesses.


Grimes Oil Company, Inc.

Favorite Color


Timing Pairs

<a href="">Tape: 1 Slating of Calvin "Kern" Grimes' interview</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Calvin "Kern" Grimes lists his favorites</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Calvin "Kern" Grimes describes his father's family background</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Calvin "Kern" Grimes talks about his father's career</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Calvin "Kern" Grimes describes his mother's family background</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Calvin "Kern" Grimes talks about his sister</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Calvin "Kern" Grimes describes his earliest childhood memory</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Calvin "Kern" Grimes talks about the changes at Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Calvin "Kern" Grimes remembers living in the Dorchester and Roxbury neighborhoods of Boston, Massachusetts</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Calvin "Kern" Grimes recalls the racial demographics of his early community</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Calvin "Kern" Grimes describes his early religious experiences</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Calvin "Kern" Grimes talks about his early household</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Calvin "Kern" Grimes remembers his parents' friends</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Calvin "Kern" Grimes recalls Boston's black social scene</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Calvin "Kern" Grimes describes the creation of Grimes Oil Company</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Calvin "Kern" Grimes talks about working with his father</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Calvin "Kern" Grimes remembers his early responsibilities at Grimes Oil Company</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Calvin "Kern" Grimes recalls acquiring a contract with Polaroid Corporation</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Calvin "Kern" Grimes describes the benefits of President Richard Nixon's SBA programs</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Calvin "Kern" Grimes talks about the 8(a) Business Development Program</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Calvin "Kern" Grimes recalls his growth strategy for Grimes Oil Company</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Calvin "Kern" Grimes remembers Grimes Oil Company's recovery from bankruptcy</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Calvin "Kern" Grimes talks about working with contractors</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Calvin "Kern" Grimes remembers the death of his father</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Calvin "Kern" Grimes talks about Minister Louis Farrakhan</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Calvin "Kern" Grimes describes a corporate agreement involving Grimes Oil Company, Inc.</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Calvin "Kern" Grimes talks about Grimes Oil Company, Inc.'s current contracts</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Calvin "Kern" Grimes describes his hopes for Grimes Oil Company, Inc.</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Calvin "Kern" Grimes talks about his organizational involvement</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Calvin "Kern" Grimes reflects upon the progress of young African American professionals</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Calvin "Kern" Grimes talks about the importance of minority set aside programs</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Calvin "Kern" Grimes describes his hopes and concerns for the African American community</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Calvin "Kern" Grimes reflects upon his legacy</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Calvin "Kern" Grimes reflects upon his life</a>







Calvin "Kern" Grimes talks about his father's career
Calvin "Kern" Grimes talks about the 8(a) Business Development Program
And what did your father [Calvin Grimes, Sr.] tell you about growing up? Did he ta- was he, did he talk about his years of growing up there?$$ Well, he, he always talked about how hard it was and, and--try to get something, or do something for yourself, or go into business for yourself. He worked for a couple of companies before he did that, but he always was a, an entrepreneur I would say and worked hard, but it was about family and I always was with him. I always was and he'd pick me up from school, change your clothes in the truck and go to work and that was it.$$That, that was that, right.$$ That was that, that was that.$$Um-hm, so 'cause you were part of the family business [Grimes Oil Company; Grimes Oil Company, Inc.], right?$$ Right, right.$$But did he--how would you describe your father though, I mean was he you know, what kind of person was he?$$ Very stern, very businesslike. I mean he, he, he was--my mother [Marguerite Perry Grimes] was more, more, more outgoing. He was more business, more--and my sister [Rae Grimes Wells] was like him, more business. I was--I liked my mama.$$Okay, so, so did he talk a lot? He didn't share (simultaneous)--?$$ (Simultaneous) Oh he talked.$$He talked a lot?$$ He talked a lot; what you should do, how you do it.$$But why, why did he call Boston [Massachusetts] hard back then?$$ Well, I imagine that was during, a lot of time was during the Depression [Great Depression] when he started and he said that people had ration stamps to get a gallon of oil and everything, gas was high and things were high and you know, he, he, he told me one day that, "You put these quarters in the refrigerator." I said, "Well what, what does that do daddy?" He says, "That's how we pay it. If you feed the refrigerator it stays on, your food stays cold and then the man comes once a month, empties the vegetable bin, like a parking meter" and that was how he paid for the refrigerator, it was a Philco, I'll never forget. I was a little boy. My job was to--he'd come home with a pocketful of money and I would punch the quarters and he'd put so much in, but he was always an entrepreneur. And it was, it was a, a business that was--there were other fuel dealers, but everybody had basically their territory--their own territory; and then in the summer we sold vegetables. We had another truck and we would have the same route and we sold vegetables, yeah.$What other--once you got into the 8--now how long did it take you to get certified into the 8(a) program [8(a) Business Development Program]?$$ A lot of paperwork, you're right. Once you got your paperwork in order I think that they were ready to, to roll. Once we got in we got, I don't think we waited more than six months to get certified, you know, get all your paperwork and all that and everything.$$So now were you going around to different conferences and exhibits or things like that, or what, what did having the 8(a) program, being 8(a) certified, what did it allow you to do besides the Polaroid [Polaroid Corporation] business?$$ It gave me advantage for, for new business within the government agencies. That's what I told you I had the [U.S.] Army bases, we had the VA hospitals [Veterans Administration; U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs], we had the post offices [U.S. Postal Service]. We had all these companies. All--they put that package together and we brought oil to these customers and my big supplier was a major company, Global Petroleum. That was, that was big doings.$$So what, what did your annual receipts go up to at that point?$$ Oh, what we did in those years. We were, we were high. We did big sales, probably twelve million, thirteen million [dollars].$$That's a lot of money (simultaneous)--$$ (Simultaneous) Yeah--$$--in the 1970s--$$ --but the volume was this, 'cause it was based on the price of a gallon of oil so your sales--if the oil was high, your prices were high, your volume was high, your gross sales were high.$$Okay, but what were your, what were the margins that you were offering on it?$$ Oh, the, the margins, we worked, if we worked on, on the government stuff we worked on about sixty cents a gallon, fifty cents a gallon. It was a decent margin. They, they, they wanted that program to work. They, they didn't squeeze you to the point you know, give you a, a hiccup and then squeeze you on price and then you can't make any money.$$Um-hm, okay and then what--so you're saying business was just coming in. Now, how (simultaneous)--$$ (Simultaneous) No, no, I mean we picked up new business from that, but the, the government helped, kept us together while building where some of these other companies depended on the government stuff and didn't pick up no new business.$$I see, I see.$$ That, that, that was our key [for Grimes Oil Company, Inc.].$$Okay, but I saw, I saw that, I mean some of your clients who were they?$$ Digital, you may not remember Digital (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous) Equipment Corporation [Digital Equipment Corporation], um-hm.$$ Digital--We had Gillette [The Gillette Company], South Boston [Boston, Massachusetts], which we still have now.$$You had Bethlehem Steel [Bethlehem Steel Corporation].$$ Yep.$$You had Honeywell [Honeywell International, Inc.].$$ Oh, yep, yeah, those were a lot of the companies that moved.$$Didn't, didn't you have Raytheon [Raytheon Company]?$$ We still have Raytheon. Those are, because they are government agencies and they've got to spend the minority dollars for the federal funds. That's--$$I see. And do you, do you still have Kraft [Kraft Foods Group, Inc.]?$$ We have, we have Procter and Gamble [Procter and Gamble Company]. We don't have anything with Kraft, Procter and Gamble, that's Gillette; they bought Gillette, Procter and Gamble. We have (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous) So you mean this, who else are you competing with in the country? What other minority business in this sector, you know, of oil distribution or--?$$ There's one guy in Cleveland [Ohio], if I can think of his name. He's pretty big. He hooked up with, BP [BP P.L.C.], British Petroleum is his supplier and he's got all the Kroger's [The Kroger Company] and all those type markets; the same type of thing. I'll think of his name, his company. What else did we do? Oh, Con Edison [Consolidated Edison, Inc.] was good to us. And how we worked that Con Edison deal, they, they bought barges, big shiploads of oil, but they had Archie Bankston [Archie M. Bankston, Jr.] who was clerk of the corporation and a senior vice president, black man and Joy Crichlow was the minority person and when we, we did it, it was with my supplier, if prime falls and doesn't produce, our supplier would pick up the contract at no extra cost to them, so that made the purchasing people feel comfortable (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous) That's right.$$ --'cause no one wants to do it if you let them down and they lose their job you know how it is--$$That's right.$$ --so we, we set up a thing between the supplier, Global Petroleum and myself and we voted and signed that, that they were guaranteed that they would get product--$$I see.$$ --and that was when Con Edison was good to us years ago.$$I see.$$ Yeah, they had a nice program, yeah. They had a nice-- Joy Crichlow was the minority person there. She's retired so a lot of these people are gone.$$And with--I, I--and what happened in 1973 when you had the oil crisis? Did that affect you?$$ No, we got our, we got, we got our share, we got our (unclear) (simultaneous).$$(Simultaneous) Okay, so that didn't matter?$$ No.$$Okay.$$ It would--it tightened up--the prices went up, you know how it is when there's, when there's a crisis.$$Okay, and then what about your buying a half an acre of land at--on, on Callender Street in Dorchester [Boston, Massachusetts]?$$ Yeah, that was a st- small storage facility.$$And you paid six thousand dollars for the land?$$ Um-hm.