Wendy Glavin, Founder & CEO, Wendy Glavin Agency
On Thursday, February 1, 2018, I attended, “Celebrating Black PR History” at Joseph I. Lubin House in New York City. Dr. Rochelle Ford, Chair, Public Relations Department, S.I. Newhouse School of Public Relations at Syracuse University welcomed guests and esteemed speakers, Keynote Kenneth B. Morris, Jr. Co-Founder and President of Frederick Douglass Initiatives, and Neil Foote, President, National Black Public Relations Society, and President, Foote Communications started the discussion:
“We are at a transformative time in this country. Tonight, we’ll listen, learn, respect and look forward to how we can build and learn from the lessons of the past about how we perceive race, media, and image. We must do all we can to ensure we accurately portray blacks and all people of color in all forms of media. Now, I’d like to introduce Kenneth B. Morris Jr., Co-Founder and President, Frederick Douglass Family Initiatives.”
Kenneth B. Morris, Jr.: I was reminded of my legacy last week after President Donald Trump spoke about the legendary abolitionist as if he didn’t know that Douglass had died in 1895. “Frederick Douglass is an example of somebody who’s done an amazing job that is being recognized more and more, I notice,” said the president Feb. 1, 2018 while surrounded by black supporters during a breakfast to mark the beginning of Black History Month.
“I’m the great-great-great grandson of Frederick Douglass and the great-great grandson of Booker T. Washington. My life could be described as distinguished, yet decisively disengaged from my legacy.
I lived with my grandmother, Nettie Hancock Washington, Booker T. Washington’s granddaughter, on Massachusetts Avenue in Bethesda. There were all types of pictures of Frederick Douglass at her Capitol Hill townhouse. When I was young, the portrait of the piercing eyes of the handsome African American with the shock of grey hair looked mean.
Frederick Douglass advanced freedom through knowledge and strategic action. Learning history is important for a lot of reasons, most importantly, to know where we’ve come from and to keep it alive.”
Frederick Douglass and Booker T. Washington knew education equals freedom. We’ve reprinted Frederick Douglass’ biography for students in honor of his 200th birthday. When Frederick turned eight years old, his slave owner hired him out to work as a servant in Baltimore. Frederick realized there was a connection between literacy and freedom when his slave owner said, “You cannot teach a black person to read and write then he won’t be a slave.”
Frederick taught himself how to read and write. He was around poor black and white children who he would learn from. He sold bread for books because he would rather feed his mind and let his stomach be empty.
He was always so hungry as a slave. He would eat like the animals, horses, cattle, and sheep, from a trough. He broke fee from the, ‘I prayed for twenty years but my prayers weren’t answered until I prayed with my legs.’
Booker T. Washington benefited from Frederick Douglas. He worked in the coal mines so he could go to school. Washington had no concept of higher education. At 16 years-old, he made a 500-mile walk, slept outside until he arrived at Hampton Institute in Virginia.
He met Miss Mackie, the head teacher. She looked at his appearance and said he was not the type of student Hampton wanted. Instead, she told him to clean a classroom. Booker swept, mopped, dusted and washed the walls. When Miss Mackie saw the spotless room, she hired him as a janitor. The job helped him pay for school. He graduated from Hampton 1n 1875. He taught at Hampton until Hampton’s founder recommended him as the head of a new school, the Tuskegee Institute, in Alabama.
He taught children how to build with bricks to give them a stake in the nation’s economy, how they could change themselves and build self-esteem. He bridged the gap between the Constitution.
I spent all my summers on the Chesapeake Bay with my father who said he wanted the house to point in a certain direction so we’re never forget where we’d come from. On the front yard, you looked out at the Eastern shore. Across the bay, you could see the land on the other side where Frederick Douglass was born, to never wanted to forget where he came from and know where we are headed.
When I think of that portrait in my grandmother’s home, I realize he was strategic in how he changed public image. It illustrates, “You can’t deny that I’m a person of value.” He called, photography, the great Democratic Art Form. He understood all communication tools abolitionists had at their disposal.
Imagine the courage that took. How do we communicate about civil justice today? People of all ages have come up to me because they want to express gratitude to Frederick Douglass. Pick your freedom fighter of choice. Every young person is one. History lives in each of us. Some are the products of slavery. We all have the right to be free.
All of us, live far from the cotton fields. Young people need hope. When we listen closely enough, that’s when change happens.”
Panelist, Donald Singletary, President of The Singletary Group said, “Activism starts with the fight for freedom.” Octavius Catto landed in Philadelphia and wore many different hats. He was a civil rights activist, a military officer during the Civil War, and graduated valedictorian from the Institute for Colored Youth (now, Cheyney University).
He also wore a baseball cap and co-founded the Philadelphia Pythians, one of the first African-American baseball clubs. He was a co-manager and a player for the team. Catto championed the desegregation of Philly’s trolley system or ‘streetcars’ as they were known.
After the Civil War, he started a Philadelphia protest movement that led to passage of the 1867 Pennsylvania law that prohibited racially segregated public transportation. He was gunned down on South Street on Election Day in 1871 at the age of 32 when he attempted to vote following Pennsylvania’s ratification of the 15th Amendment.
Outside City Hall stands The Octavius Catto Statue and Memorial, the First African American to be honored and featured in Philadelphia. Mayor Jim Kenney said, “My hope is that someday, every child in Philadelphia will know as much about Octavius Valentine Catto as they do about Benjamin Franklin, George Washington and Martin Luther King.”
Mr. Singletary concluded by urging people at the event to lookup #BlackLivesMatter. Let’s not let them go unsung.
Panelist Tracey Wood Mendelsohn, President and CEO of Black Public Relations Society in New York said, “One of the pioneers in developing communications techniques was W.E.B. DuBois. Dubois started a movement for slaves to free themselves.”
In 1900, W.E.B. Du Bois, along with collaborators Thomas J. Calloway and Daniel Murray, planned and mounted an exhibition on the state of black American life for that year’s Paris Exposition. The exhibit consisted of 500 photographs that symbolized black life in America 35 years after the end of slavery.
Ms. Mendelsohn said, “This movement was not just going with leaders but in people’s homes. Somehow people found the money to get family portraits taken which where meaning-makers and inroad-makers.”
The photos, many of them portraits, show the trappings of middle- and upper-class life: ornate clothing, fancy hats, jewelry and confident poses. Du Bois intended the photographs to counteract stereotypes of blacks as poor, uneducated, or the victims of American racism.
Ms. Mendelsohn spoke about DuBois theory on double consciousness which describes an individual whose identity is divided into several facets. It reveals the psycho-social divisions in American society and allows for a full understanding of those divisions. Du Bois’ focus on the specificity of black experience allows for challenging injustice in national and world systems.
She urged us to watch the documentary, “Through a Lens Darkly. We have a rich treasure trove of pictures.”
Judith Harrison, Senior Vice President, Diversity and Inclusion of Weber Shandwick and President of the PRSA Foundation said, “When it comes to history you have to dig deep into what African Americans have done. Look at PR’s past through a different lens to see how PR has changed throughout 50-years. An example is, “Race and Coca-Cola Wars.”
She presented ads showing that Coke was made for white people and Pepsi was made for black people. The fascinating century-and-a-half-long history of soft drinks and race relations in the United States is spelled out in a just published New York Times column from Grace Elizabeth Hale. The part about the interwar period in America is particularly interesting. Coke marketed mainly to the white middle class:
Coke’s recipe wasn’t the only thing influenced by white supremacy: through the 1920s and ’30s, few realizes that Coke marketed assiduously to whites, while Pepsi hired a “Negro Markets” department. Whereas Pepsi and its “negro markets” department went an entirely different direction: By the late 1940s, black fashion models appeared in Pepsi ads and in black publications. The company Hire Duke Ellington as a spokesperson. Employees even circulated racist public statements by Robert W. Woodruff, Coke’s president,
The fascinating century-and-a-half-long history of soft drinks and race relations in the United States is spelled out in a just published New York Times column from Grace Elizabeth Hale.
Ms. Harrison recommended reading, “The Real Pepsi Challenge” and “The Negro Motorist Green Book,” was a travel guide that helped black road-trippers avoid the dangers, injustices, and racial violence of segregation during the Jim Crow era in America. It was published by New York postal worker Victor Hugo Green from 1936 to 1967.
Panelist Dr. Denise Hill Assistant Professor of Eton University said, “Reputation management was an issue in 1950. President Eisenhower recognized the importance of communications and wanted to further education, the economy, culture, and promote a positive impression of the U.S.” He formed, “USIA: A Hybrid of PR and Diplomacy” to monitor worldwide media coverage and look at how the Soviets were reporting on the U.S.” One strategy was to focus on progress (don’t deny there’s a problem), present the civil rights movement as progress, and show that the U.S. is a multiracial country. Use the word, “negro,” and avoid, “colored.” Focus on negro accomplishments, but don’t promote the first time a negro walked into a movie.
Ms. Hill explained, “At the same time, the U.S. was fighting Communism it’s not even affording its own freedoms, but instead, practicing hypocrisy. Saying one thing and doing something else. But, it didn’t impact the bottom-line. PRSA provided guidance and advice. Charles Trout Tuskegee Institute, only had one black panelist. PR cannot solve every problem. This was a societal problem.”
Panelist Mike Paul, Reputation Doctor said, “Let’s close our eyes and go back to 1957. A black woman, named Inez Kaiser was 5 feet tall, the Voting Act is seven years in the future, can’t have a drink of water. If she looked at a white person, she could be killed.”
But Inez Kaiser wanted to think big. She wanted to do business with white people. No one had ever done that before. Set-up a business in the white folks’ section of town. She went to a white rental agency in Kansas City, MI. But no spaces were available for her. Not for black people.
But, Inez had a plan B. She went to the rental office’s decision-maker and said, “If I don’t get an office tomorrow, I’ll call my friends from NBC, ABC and CBS. She got a space.”
Inez grew up in Kansas but Americans living in the South were not afforded the opportunity of a higher education. Determined, she went to Pittsburgh State University. She began her career as a teacher and wrote a column, “Fashion-Wise and Otherwise,” which was published in African American-owned newspapers nationwide. In 1957, Inez Kaiser founded the first African American female-owned public relations agency in the U.S, Inez Kaiser & Associates in Kansas City, Missouri. Her clients included, 7-Up and Lever Brothers. She joined PRSA in New York and became the first black person to join the Kansas City Chamber of Commerce.
Mike expertly closed the event by sharing Inez Kaiser’s quote, “Whatever the mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve!”