The alternative pioneers of PR

Hidden History unearths the neglected diverse roots of the public relations industry.

(L-R) Top: Ofield Dukes, Maggie Lena Walker, Frederick Douglass, Moss Hyles Kendrix, Barbara Harris; Bottom: Patricia Tobin, John Harold Johnson, Bayard Rustin, Inez Kaiser, Joseph Varney Baker. (Credit: Barry Spector, Museum of Public Relations)

PRWeek’s Hidden History Family Tree, produced in partnership with The Museum of Public Relations, is a welcome attempt to rebalance the books when it comes to assessing the roots of PR.

It features 30 individuals of Black, Hispanic and AAPI descent who represent an alternative view of the pioneers normally referenced when it comes to the history of the profession.

The likes of Edward Bernays, Ivy Lee and Betsy Plank are the first names who typically crop up in such discussions. PRWeek’s own Forefathers of PR piece to celebrate our 25th anniversary in the U.S. focused on four white men: Al Golin, David Finn, Harold Burson and Dan Edelman.

For Hidden History, these usual suspects have been replaced by the likes of Ofield Dukes, Lynne Choy Uyeda, Patricia Tobin, Donald Padilla and Bayard Rustin. Some of them had media and political roots as well as communications. Others were early examples of influencers in their specialist areas.

All of them faced adversity in their personal and business lives that they overcame with strength and persistence. All of them made a big difference. The Hidden History Family Tree offers a small glimpse into their lives and contributions – there is much more in-depth content about them at the Museum’s website.

Rustin’s life story is incredible. He organized the Martin Luther King “I have a dream” march in Washington, DC in 1963 and pretty much built the template for how mass events such as this were arranged in future. A mentor to King, Rustin was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013 by President Obama, who called him “an unyielding activist for civil rights, dignity, and equality for all.”

Rustin was arrested during his teen years for refusing to leave whites-only areas in restaurants and the movie theater in his hometown of Westchester, Pennsylvania. It set him on the path to a lifetime of activism and awareness-raising.

Mabel Ping-Hua Lee campaigned for women’s suffrage. In the 1920s she became the first Chinese woman in the U.S. to earn a doctorate in economics. Lynne Choy Uyeda became the first Asian woman in the U.S. to found a PR firm and she is still alive aged 86. Jesse Lewis founded one of the first African American-owned PR firms and is also still alive today at the grand old age of 99.

These pioneers and the rest of the individuals on the Hidden History Family Tree are not just role models for up-and-coming diverse PR pros, they are exemplars all of us can learn from.


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