Lacking any blog post ideas this week that really excited me, I searched for prompt ideas.
These 365 creative writing prompts from ThinkWritten came to the rescue. I decided to do number 68: “Random Wikipedia Article: Go to Wikipedia and click on Random Article … write about whatever the page you get,” mashed up with Kat Bouska’s “write a blog post inspired by the word: island.”
My Random Wikipedia Article
I have to wonder how “random” this is. Is it possible Wikipedia has some kind of algorithm? Maybe I should have done my search from an incognito window because the entry I selected for me was a) about public relations (a professional interest of mine) and b) about one of the first black pioneers in advertising (I’ve been writing about race lately here and here.)
But I’ll give Wikipedia the benefit of the doubt, and accept that the entry I received was serendipitous. Meet my subject, Moss H. Kendrix.
Who Was Moss H. Kendrix?
Moss H. Kendrix was a creator — of organizations, concepts, observances — to name a few. After reading about his life and legacy, I would add that he created something intangible but revolutionary: entirely new ways for institutions who had decided people should be fit into rigidly defined categories to see beyond walls that had been constructed and assumptions that had been made.
A native of Atlanta, Kendrix studied journalism at Morehouse College, where he co-founded Phi Delta Delta, the first African-American student journalism society, sometime in the late 1930s.
Although he was accepted into law school (it’s unclear from my research how long he attended law school), he was drafted into the Army. Related to his military service, he became public relations director in 1944 for the Republic of Liberia’s centennial celebration. This work hooked him on a career in public relations.
More Things Moss Kendrix Created
After his military service ended, Kendrix created his agency, The Moss Kendrix Organization. I love the organization’s tagline, which was apparently also Kendrix’s personal motto:
What The Public Thinks Counts!
(I can only imagine how Kendrix would handle the way we members of the public share our thoughts via floods of tweets and other social media comments, and how that would be “counted” by him.)
Moss created National Negro Newspaper Week, which became Black Press Week.
Moss hosted (and created, I think) the Profiles of our Times radio show on WWDC.
Moss helped create the National Association of Market Developers, which became the National Alliance of Market Developers (neither organization seems to be active right now, but they made a difference in their times). Here’s a bit of the organization’s history.
The Father of Black PR
Kendrix made a difference in public relations and became what Global Social Media News called the “Father of Black PR” because he was one of the first public relations professionals to help companies see the value of African-American buying power as well as the potential of the community to provide skilled employees to the labor market. This can’t have been easy in the late 1940s.
Most notably, Kendrix approached Coca-Cola, which was not a popular beverage in the African-American community, and presented a plan to market directly to that demographic, in a customized way. Here’s an example:
You can learn more in this article. Kendrix’s efforts had ripple effects for Asians, Hispanics, Native Americans and other minorities.
In this PRVisionaries profile, there is a fascinating feature about the National Press Club’s meeting with President John F. Kennedy in 1961 when Kennedy invited club members (including Kendrix) to the White House because he was unable to attend their annual awards luncheon. Here’s the paragraph that jumped out at me:
At the Press Institute a panel on the subject “Africa — Challenge to Mass Media,” concluded that the matter of semantics in the communication of concepts is one of the major problems confronting American mass media today.
Early 1960s or 2017: isn’t the matter of semantics in the communication of concepts still a major problem confronting American mass media today? I would argue that the issue of semantics certainly still exists, but optics have taken on an equally challenging role (although I know Kendrix’s story is founded in his relationship with Coca-Cola, I can’t help thinking how he could have been a voice of reason in the conference room where the disastrous Kendall Jenner Pepsi ad was conceived).
Kendrix’s Final Chapter
Kendrix died in December 1989. I wondered as I researched his story if his children have carried on his legacy at all. His oldest son, Moss Kendrix, Jr., retired from the Air Force and shares his thoughts on his father here. I couldn’t locate any information regarding his other son, Alan Kendrix.
There’s no doubt in my mind, though, that his legacy lives on. College students such as Tre Lamar are learning about him and taking those lessons into PR’s future. (Read Lamar’s Odyssey piece, The Moss H. Kendrix story, here.)
Which is the Island and Which is the Mainland?
Obviously, one Wikipedia article and fifteen minutes worth of research can hardly give a comprehensive picture of an individual. Conversely, I learned so much about a PR legend who is new to me.
I imagined, reading his story and learning about his life, how isolated he may have felt as he tried to convey to white advertising executives the idea that black people held potential to help Coca Cola (and other products) gain market share, when desegregation was still being fought for and long before the Voting Rights Act of 1965 reinforced their right to vote.
It’s easy to view Kendrix as “the island” and conventional white America as “the mainland.”
But I have to wonder if it was the other way around and “the establishment” was the entity isolated, surrounded by oceans of ignorance and needing to be rescued (although, to be a bit cynical, the industry probably grew more accepting once they realized the financial potential of the additional customers).
I feel like Kendrix was one of the first lifeboats giving these advertisers a chance to escape the island of assumption.