Ofield Dukes, a giant of the Black press

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     Ofield Dukes and Hansen ClarkeOfield Dukes, the public relations mogul known as a powerful mover and shaker in Washington political circles, is remembered this week, not only as a national PR giant but as a champion for the Black press.

     “He was a remarkable, extraordinary individual whose presence will be missed beyond measure. He was probably the leading advocate of the Black press and was one of the great pioneers,” said Danny Bakewell Sr., immediate past chairman of the National Newspaper Publishers Association, the Black Press of America, which Dukes served faithfully for decades. 

    “He was always there when we asked him to do something. His legacy will be a light of truth and courage and undaunting pursuit of equality for Black people measured through the eyes of the Black press.”

    Dukes died Wednesday, Dec. 7, at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, where he started his career as an award-winning columnist and editorial writer for the Michigan Chronicle from 1958 to 1964. He had returned to his home of Detroit in the latter part of this year, suffering with multiple myeloma, a blood cancer that affects the bones. He was 79.

     “While Ofield’s accomplishments and accolades are varied and plentiful over the past four decades, the best adjective I can bestow upon him is true and loyal friend who was like a brother to me,” said John B. Smith Sr., publisher of the Atlanta Inquirer and two-term NNPA chairman, a fete that he attributes to Dukes’ support. 

    “I will never be able to recount the many times we discussed various issues pertaining to the Black Press of America and his foresight and aptitude was always on point…Ofield was among the premier communications strategists.”

     A viewing was set for 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 13, at the James H. Cole Funeral Home Northwest Chapel at 16100 Schaefer Highway in Detroit. The funeral was set for 11 a.m. Wednesday, Dec. 14, at Tabernacle Baptist Church, 2080 W. Grand Blvd. in Detroit with interment at Woodlawn Cemetery, 19975 Woodward Ave. For more information on arrangements, contact Naomi R. Patton at  (313) 223-4485 or npatton@freepress.com.

    A Washington, D.C. memorial service is being planned for Wednesday, Jan. 11.

    Richmond Free Press Editor/Publisher Raymond H. Boone Sr., who had known Dukes for 50 years, remained in touch with him during his final months.

     “We remained in constant touch until the last weeks before his death. In our last telephone conversation, he remained courageously upbeat while cherishing the blessings of his life as he faced the reality of his future,” Boone said.

     Boone met Dukes as a member of the Johnson-Humphrey administration, which Boone was covering as a reporter for the Washington Afro American. “We immediately struck a lasting friendship in 1964,” Boone recalled.

    After Humphrey lost his presidential bid against Richard Nixon in 1968, Dukes established Ofield Dukes & Associates, beginning a stellar PR career. The first African-American recipient of both the Gold and Silver Anvils, the highest awards of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), Dukes was among the most highly sought after public relations executives in Washington. Motown Record Corp.  was his first client.

     He remained grounded, never forsaking his passion for the progress of Black people.

     Dukes organized the first Congressional Black Caucus Dinner in 1971 and worked tediously in his final years to keep the CBC and Black press connected.

    “He will be sorely missed for his many years of service to the Democratic Party, the Congressional Black Caucus and The Black Press of America,” says Dorothy Leavell, former NNPA president and former chair of the NNPA Foundation of which Dukes served as a board member for six years. “He loved the Black press and served it faithfully throughout his career. We shall all miss his service to the fourth estate.”

     Leavell specifically recalled Dukes’ working for Black press inclusion in briefings with President Clinton as well as the inclusion of the Black press on advertising buys with the Democratic National Committee. 

     Among CBC stalwarts, Dukes was especially close to U. S. Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.).

     “As a member of Congress, I have been blessed to call many wonderful people my friend, but none more than Ofield Dukes. I am extremely saddened by the passing of such a great man who had significant impact in not only my life, but that of my colleagues in the Congressional Black Caucus, dating back to its founding,” Rangel said in a statement. 

     Ofield Dukes was born Aug. 8, 1932, in Rutledge, Ala., served in the U.S. Army from 1952 to 1954, earned a journalism degree at Wayne State University in 1958 and got a job at the Chronicle the same year.He left the Chronicle for Washington, D.C. in 1964 to serve as deputy director of information for the President’s Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity under President Lyndon B. Johnson. 

    In 1966, he joined the staff of Vice President Hubert Humphrey as a consultant and continued as a consultant to every Democratic presidential campaign since then.

    In 2002, Radio One founder Cathy Hughes named the building that houses three of her Detroit stations the Ofield Dukes Communications Center.  

     Dukes taught as an adjunct professor at Howard University for l7 years and at the American University School of Communications for eight years.

     He was founder of the Black Public Relations Society of Washington and was a member of the Washington, DC/National Capital Public Relations Society of America Hall of Fame and the Virginia Communications Hall of Fame.  

     Dukes is survived by his daughter. Roxi Victorian, a performing arts graduate from Howard University; a grandson and three sisters, Anne Harris, Betty Hayden and Lou Brock.  

    “His kind, there are no more Ofield Dukes,” said Sam Logan, publisher of the Michigan Chronicle. “There will not be another.” 

    The Chronicle honored Dukes on its 75th anniversary in November. 

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