Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Marketing & Communications

Honoring Black PR History: A reflection on pioneers of the industry

This blog originally appeared on PRSA Pittsburgh’s website.

At least once in our careers, we’re asked why we decided to join the public relations and communications industry.

The answers given are often quite simple – “Because I love to solve problems,” “Because I’m a natural storyteller,” “Because I enjoy connecting with my community.”

But the answer I give is complex and deeply personal  – “Because of Bayard Rustin.”

As a Black woman in the industry, I stand on the shoulders of giants who’ve broken down barriers for people of color.

Every day as a digital marketer, I roll out of bed, log on to social media and I write freely, without fear. I write to influence others – something Black people, like Rustin, were once arrested, beaten or even killed for doing.

Black PR Industry Pioneers

The Black PR legends before me paved the way for professionals like me to enter and excel in the industry.

Not just this month, but every month, we must remember that the faces of PR include  ones of color.

We honor and thank the change agents of Black PR History for their contributions, because to them, we are forever indebted.

Here are only a few of many examples of Black PR pioneers:

Ida B. Wells

Ida B. Wells (1862-1931) was a civil rights advocate, journalist, and feminist. Wells is notably praised for her social activism campaigns designed to promote women’s suffrage and the abolition of lynching.

Wells was also known as the, “Princess of the Press.” She crafted appeals to change public opinion in America and Europe. Her efforts resulted in support for her campaigns.

In 2020, Wells was awarded a Pulitzer Prize, “for her outstanding and courageous reporting on the horrific and vicious violence against African Americans during the era of lynching.”

Joseph Varney Baker

Joseph Varney Baker (1908-1993)  was once described as, “the dean of Negro public relations men.”

As the Museum of Public Relations reports, Baker was the city editor of the Philadelphia Tribune, a newspaper for African Americans that is still published today. After leaving this job, he provided public relations counsel for the Pennsylvania Railroad.

In 1934, Baker became the first Black PR firm owner in the country. Subsequently, he became the first Black person in public relations to become known for acquiring significant accounts from large corporations in America.

Baker was also the first Black president of PRSA Philadelphia  and the first Black man to gain accreditation from PRSA.

Maggie Lena Walker

Maggie Lena Walker (1864-1934) is best known for becoming the first Black woman to charter and become a bank president in the country.

“Walker was said to have a genius for public relations, and used her skills and drive to help her community, rally support for her causes, and establish long-lasting, successful institutions,” according to the Museum of Public Relations.

Inez Kaiser

Inez Kaiser (1918-2016) forged her career while struggling for basic rights that were denied to Black people in the ‘60s.

She was the first Black woman to own a PR firm in the country. Kaiser was also the first Black woman to join PRSA and was active in her community and politics.

7-Up was one of Kaiser’s major accounts. She also founded Del Sprites, an organization that helped disadvantaged African-American junior and senior high school girls pursue higher education.

Patricia Tobin

Patricia Tobin (1943-2008) was viewed by many as a queen of PR, master of networking and a guru of event planning.

She began her career as a broadcaster and in the early 1980s, Tobin organized an event for a sportscaster. That was the beginning of weekly “media nights” or “journalist jams” she would host, where people would come to socialize and network.

Because there were few opportunities for people of color in her field, Tobin decided to start her own company. She left her broadcasting job and began Tobin and Associates in 1983.

Most notably, Tobin co-founded the National Black Public Relations Society and served as a dedicated activist for minorities, women and youth.

Moss Hyles Kendrix

Moss Hyles Kendrix (1917-1989) is best known for his work with the Coca-Cola company. His employment with Coca-Cola made him the first Black person to acquire a major national account.

Not only did Kendrix revolutionize how advertising in America portrayed Black people, he also pushed his clients to employ Black practitioners and established a professional group to support and encourage Black communication professionals.

PRSA Pittsburgh encourages everyone to learn about more Black PR pioneers from The Museum of Public Relations and notable Black innovators.

PRSA Pittsburgh also encourages everyone to view our resource list of Black-owned businesses, creatives and more to show continued support and commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion during Black History Month and beyond.

Empowering Tomorrow’s PR Leaders

Not only has Black PR history shaped my career choice, but it also has propelled other Black women to make significant contributions to the industry and inspire generations to come.

In honor of Black History Month, PRSA Pittsburgh invites its members to a virtual discussion with Fatou Barry on Zoom from noon to 1 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 15. Barry is a brand strategist and founder of the inclusive community of over 40,000 PR professionals, PR Girl Manifesto.

Community resources such as PR Girl Manifesto empower emerging and current PR pros to use their abilities to transform the industry, change the narrative and create a future of equitable and inclusive opportunities for all women.

Attendees will learn how to commit to D&I long-term, how a career in PR can be a vehicle for advocacy and tips to help women excel in the industry and generate opportunities in the workplace. 

We’ll also reflect on Black PR History with Fatou and learn more about the professionals in her life that have inspired her to serve as a pioneer for future leaders among women and women of color.

RSVP for this free, virtual event on Eventbrite.

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