updated 4/20/2006 8:29:14 PM ET 2006-04-21T00:29:14

Darwin N. Davis, who was among the first black Americans to hold a top corporate position, has died. He was 74.

Davis, who lived in Stamford, died suddenly on Sunday during a business trip to Philadelphia, his son, Derek, said. His wife, Velmarie, said the cause was cardiac arrest.

Last year, Davis was named one of "the bravest generation" by Fortune magazine for being among the first black executives to fight their way to the top of corporate America. He worked his way up to senior vice president at AXA Financial, formerly Equitable Life Insurance, and retired in 1988 after 22 years at the company.

The Jackie Robinson Foundation presented him with its 2006 Lifetime Achievement Award.

"His story is record-breaking and astounding by any measurement," said the foundation, which was named after America's first black Major League Baseball player.

Davis was hired as a sales agent by Equitable Life in 1966 and quickly showed his business prowess. He generated more than $1 million in sales within his first two years and was promoted to district manager. He worked his way up to agency vice president by 1975 and to senior vice president eight years later.

In a 2003 profile written by Black Enterprise magazine, Davis said there has been systemic racial discrimination in America for centuries.

"The mission of having black folks enter and participate in the best of America's offerings is unfinished business that will probably never be (completed) in our lifetime," he said.

Davis was born in Flint, Mich., on April 10, 1932. His father, Abner Davis, became the first black postal clerk in Flint, according to a biography by The HistoryMakers, a Chicago-based nonprofit group that promotes awareness of the contributions of blacks to American life.

Besides his wife, Davis is survived by two sons, two daughters and seven grandchildren.

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