By Oranisa Kanjanasoon
If you were asked to name history’s most prominent professionals, you would most likely say Ivy Lee, John Hill, or Edward Bernays. Most likely, you wouldn’t name any African Americans.
But that will hopefully begin to change, according to Shelley Spector, the founder of The Museum of Public Relations, who set up the first-ever exhibit celebrating history’s most prominent black professionals. The exhibit, displayed through the end of March at the Museum of Public Relations, Baruch College, in NYC, features artifacts, documents, photos and books from some of history’s most prominent black PR professionals.
“It’s very important that our field’s history include everyone who made a contribution—not just a few white men,” said Spector. “Unfortunately, very few classes or textbooks ever include African Americans, and students graduate knowing nothing about these remarkable individuals. This has got to change.”
Thus last summer, the Museum began assembling materials from the estates of Inez Kaiser, founder of the first black woman owned PR agency; Ofield Dukes, a prominent D.C. PR pioneer specializing in civil rights and entertainment; and Moss Kendrix, an adviser specializing in marketing to African American audiences, whose archives are stored at the Alexandria Black History Museum in Virginia.
The first ever-Black PR History Month exhibit was opened at the Museum of Public Relations on February, 10, following an event featuring a panel of distinguished scholars discussing the little-known life stories of black PR pioneers. [See a live stream of the event on Facebook.]
According to Spector, the goal of the exhibit is to give students their first hands-on and up close look at the artifacts, photos and documents belonging to our history’s most prominent black pioneers, and encourage all PR students to learn more about their contributions to our field.
“When you are looking at these letters and documents, pieces that 40 or 50 years ago were actually sitting on the desk of Inez or hanging on the wall of Ofield’s office, you feel this deep personal connection with these pioneers.” said one student who visited the exhibit. “I feel for the first time that we have role models in this field!”
The exhibit was also meaningful to Indian-born Baruch student, Udit Bhandari. “When I see the work of Moss Kendrix, I get a much better understanding of marketing practices of American companies in the 20th century, especially how they tried, and often failed, to win the goodwill of the African -Americans audience,” Bhandari said. “It was Kendrix, in fact, who counseled American companies against using racially offensive stereotypical characters like Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben’s. He made a huge difference in how public relations to ethnic audiences is practiced today.”
Due to its popularity with students, researchers and young PR professionals, the Black PR History exhibit is being extended another month, until the end of March. It will run alongside the Women’s PR History exhibit, which opens March 10.
Oranisa Kanjanasoon is a graduate student in Public Relations and Corporate Communications at New York University. She is a 2015 graduate of Penn State University. For more information on the lives of black PR pioneers, go to the PR Museum website.