Remembering Ofield Dukes

Carolyn P. DuBose, Special to The Informer | 6/18/2013, 9:59 a.m.
When I was visiting the National Press Building in Washington, D.C., recently, I was reminded of Ofield Dukes.
Ofield Dukes (Courtesy of The Plank Center)

When I was visiting the National Press Building in Washington, D.C., recently, I was reminded of Ofield Dukes. This was the place he had leased office space to start a public relations firm in 1969. He opened Ofield Dukes & associates and began to make his dream a reality. Starting with Motown Records as his first client, he went on to become the first African-American to receive the Public Relations Society of America's Gold Anvil award in 2001. The recognition tells a lot about what the public relations industry thought about Dukes, because this is the highest award anyone can expect.

Born in Rutledge, Ala., he moved at a young age with his family to Detroit, where he obtained his education. After making a name for himself as an awarding-winning journalist at the Detroit Chronicle, he moved to Washington to work in the Johnson administration.

Our paths crossed at the Washington bureau of Johnson Publishing Company. Simeon Booker was the bureau chief, and I was the staff writer for Ebony magazine. That was in the late '60s when he opened the door for me in journalism. Dukes would walk from his office on 14th Street to the JPC office at 1750 Pennsylvania Avenue. This was a popular spot, because it was only a stone's throw from the White House. It was the place people came to find out what was going on. Those were the days before social media came into existence.

Normally, Dukes would come by when he had some news tidbits for Booker's Jet column, "Ticker Tape." He loved promoting other people. He knew that getting mentioned in Booker's column could open up job opportunities, advance careers and change lives. It was something Dukes had experienced personally.

In June 1966, Vice President Hubert Humphrey appointed Dukes to his staff in Washington. In a tribute to Booker many years later, Dukes said it was an item in "Ticker Tape" that got him the job. He was the first black member of Humphrey's staff and served for three years. After that, he decided to open his own public relations firm.

When I think of him, I remember all the work he did for the Congressional Black Caucus. He was there when the organization began. He often served as an adviser and maintained lifelong friendships with the members of the Caucus. He served on the board of the Congressional Black Caucus and helped organize the Inaugural Congressional Black Caucus Annual Legislative Conference in Washington. He was very good at operating behind the scenes which made him a popular figure on Capitol Hill.

In 1971, he helped organize the first Congressional Black Caucus Dinner. The dinner was a success and put the newly formed Congressional Black Caucus on the map. U.S. Representative Charles Diggs was the founder and first chairman of the organization. Just for the record, Dukes helped me find a job as press secretary to Diggs the same year. So, I was right in the center of things working in the Press Room.