Celebrating African-American Pioneers in PR History

By: Ayana King

As Black History Month comes to a close, it’s important to remember the great African-American pioneers in PR history. These PR professionals paved the way, making advancement in the industry possible for thousands of minority practitioners throughout the nation.

Here are three of the greats:

Moss Kendrix: Moss Kendrix was born in Atlanta, Georgia in 1917. He was a Morehouse graduate.

Kendrix had already experienced some early success as a journalist before being drafted during World War II. By good fortune, he’d been assigned to work in the War Finance Office where he traveled the country promoting war bonds on local radio stations with popular celebrates of the day, like Duke Ellington.

In 1944, shortly after the war ended, Kendrix established his own public relations firm, The Moss Kendrix Organization, and revolutionized the advertising industry when Coca-Cola became his first national client.

Until then, African Americans were generally excluded from advertising campaigns. After several years of petitioning company executives, Kendrix finally acquired the account, allowing him an opportunity, for the first time in history, to shape public perception through a series of ads. He went on to work with other national brands, like Ford Motor Company and the National Dental Association, using his earlier connections from his days in radio to attract African-American consumers.

In 1953, Kendrix founded the National Association of Market Developers at Tennessee State University, an organization designed to support minorities in the public relations industry.

Kendrix died in January 1989. He is remembered as “the crown prince of public relations” for the work he did, ensuring African Americans had a place in modern-day marketing and advertising.

Ofield Dukes: Ofield Dukes was born in rural Alabama in 1932. After serving in the Army during the Korean War, he enrolled at Wayne State University, where he graduated with a degree in journalism in 1958.

Among his many accomplishments, Dukes was appointed the deputy director of the Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity under President Lyndon B. Johnson from 1964-1969. Soon after, he established Ofield Dukes & Associates, a highly sought-after public relations firm popular among African American politicians, civil rights leaders, and entertainers. Motown Records was his first client.

Dukes always had a passion for educating and lifting up the African-American community. He taught at both Howard University and The American University, served as a communications consultant during Democratic presidential campaigns for more than 30 years, and was an advisor to several civil rights champions, including Coretta Scott King.

In 2001, PRSA awarded Dukes the Gold Anvil, the organizations highest recognition; he was the first African American to receive the award. Later, he went on to lead the Society’s first National Diversity Task Force, aimed at making diversity among the organization’s chapters a main objective.

Ofield Dukes passed in December 2011 at 79. His resume is wildly impressive, and his impact on the public relations industry, immeasurable.

Inez Kaiser: Inez Kaiser grew up in the 1930s in Kansas. She graduated from Pittsburg State University, in Pittsburg Kansas, in 1941. Soon after graduation, she began a career as a school teacher in Kansas City, Missouri, a position she held for nearly 30 years.

Before blazing a trail as the first African-American woman to own a PR firm in the nation, Kaiser was a journalist. She had always enjoyed writing and authored “Fashionwise and Otherwise,” a national column which ran in African-American-owned newspapers across the country. When an editor suggested she make a career move to public relations, Kaiser, who had never heard of PR before, took his advice and opened her own firm in 1957. Inez Kaiser & Associates was the first African-American-owned business in Kansas City, Missouri.

Kaiser enjoyed a long career, representing a number of national clients including 7Up and Sears & Roebuck. She also had the opportunity to travel the world as an advisor to both Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford.

A pioneer in the industry, Kaiser was the first African-American woman to join PRSA and remained dedicated to educating minorities, establishing a number of grants and scholarships for high school and college students. She passed in July 2016 at 98.

The PRSA Detroit Diversity Committee is comprised of Ayana King,  Lisa Peers, TaQuinda Johnson,  Teia Harris & Shelly Najor.

Featured picture via Pixabay