Ofield Dukes – Black PR’s “Godfather”

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Arguably, the nation’s most influential African American public relations practitioner and pioneer over the last 50 years was Ofield Dukes. Born in Rutledge, AL in 1932, Ofield Dukes was raised in Detroit, MI. He served in the U.S. Army during the Korean War and was a 1958 journalism graduate of Wayne State University. He was news director for a radio station for three years and then became a writer for the Michigan Chronicle, an African American newspaper in Detroit.

Ofield’s rise to PR fame began with his move to Washington, DC in the mid-1960s. He often liked to tell colleagues that Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey “Recognized my potential as a PR person and brought me to Washington.” From 1966 to 1968, Dukes served as a communications advisor to Humphrey and President Lyndon Johnson.

Thus, a long, illustrious communications career was launched. In 1969, Dukes opened his own public relations agency, Ofield Dukes & Associates. His first client was Motown Records. He had consulted every Democratic presidential candidate since 1968 and was among the first African American members of the Democratic National Committee’s (DNC) finance committee. He counted Coretta Scott King, Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross, Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY), “Roots” author Alex Haley and boxing promoter Don King among his clients. His corporate client list included Lever Brothers, Anheuser-Busch, CBS Records, AT&T, the National Bankers Association, the National Education Association and the Treasury Department.

 

Dukes represented several foreign countries, including Ghana and Liberia; participated in international trade missions; and helped rally opposition to the apartheid regime of South Africa. In describing his success with clients, Dukes said in a 1970 Washington Post interview, “Besides being a Black public relations firm, we know Washington; we know the political scene nationally; we know the Black leadership nationally; and we know the leadership people in the new nations of Africa.” In 2001, Dukes became the first African American to win the Public Relations Society of America’s (PRSA) highest honor, the Gold Anvil Award.

Clearly, there were many crowning moments in this PR icon’s legacy, but there are three of particular note that have had lasting value and impact. The first is the high-profile annual Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) Legislative Conference in Washington, DC. Because of his political and organizational acumen, Dukes was intricately involved in the planning of the first conferences and the conference’s first dinner in 1972.

Dukes served on the board of the Martin Luther King, Jr., Center for Nonviolent Social Change, but it was in 1981, while working with Stevie Wonder, that he had a key role in planning and organizing the march in Washington that lead to the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday being declared a national holiday. 

Finally, as longtime adjunct communications professor at Howard University and later at American University, Dukes was credited with guiding hundreds of students into the field of public relations. This work inspired him to join with Pat Tobin in co-founding the National Black Public Relations Society in 1998. Said noted political strategist, Donna Brazile in the Washington Post obituary on Mr. Dukes, “Ofield was both a communications guru and someone who believed in equal opportunity for all. He was an adviser, a mentor, but most of all a writer who believed that we must all tell our story and tell it again and again.” Ofield Dukes died in December 2011.

About the the GSMNS PR pioneer series

The Global Social Media News Service, a news-gathering, reporting and distribution company, proudly presents the stories of an overlooked and underreported group of African American communication pioneers.

Decades before Scandal’s Olivia Pope confidently sashayed across America’s television screens; had unchecked access to a fictional White House; and “fixed” the screw-ups of her former Boss-In-Chief and others, there were real African American men and women who practiced public relations, often in less glamorous surroundings and with considerably less fanfare. Before there was the celluloid Olivia, there was a real Moss Kendrix, D. Parke Gibson, Ofield Dukes and Pat Tobin.

Please read, enjoy and most importantly share the following links with others about the stories of“real” African American PR pioneers:

Introduction

Moss Kendrix

D. Parke Gibson

Pat Tobin

Finally, there are many, many more men and women nationwide poised to take their places in Black PR history: Terrie Williams and former NBPRS President Deborah Hyman (New York); Bruce Crawley and current NBPRS President Richelle Payne (Philadelphia); Lauri Fitz, Gwen McKinney and Wendy Campbell (Washington, DC); David Thompson (Washington, DC); Michelle Flowers-Welch and NBPRS President Emeritus Wynona Redmond (Chicago); Jim Hill (Oakland); Kim Hunter (Los Angeles); and, of course, the “real” Oliva Pope, Judy Smith (Washington/Los Angeles).

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