Shiloh Baptist Church in Northwest Washington was filled with political figures, media personalities and generations of communications executives who celebrated the life of Ofield Dukes.
Dukes, who died Dec 7 , used public relations to galvanize support for the Civil Rights movement and a national holiday for Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday. He had close relationships with stars and politicians including Stevie Wonder, President Bill Clinton and Dorothy Height.
At Friday’s D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), Mayor Vincent Gray (D), Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker (D) and former D.C. Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly (D) all spoke during the three-hour service.
“He was the North Star for countless numbers of politicians, business people, students, Civil Rights leaders and organizations,” Baker said during his tribute. “He guided so many to success and helped them change the course of history.”
Dukes was born in Rutledge, Alabama and became a journalist in the Army during the Korean War. After the war, he enrolled and graduated with a degree in journalism from Wayne State University. He was an award-winning writer for the Michigan Chronicle.
In 1964, he accepted a job as deputy director of information for President Lyndon Johnson’s Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity. Two years later, he was a communications adviser to President Hubert Humphrey.
Dukes has been a gate keeper for African American reporters needing access to the White House for every Democratic administration since LBJ. For years, he played a key role during the Democratic National Convention linking up party officials with media organizations.
“Ofield will be remembered for his dedication to advancing civil rights at home and around the world,” said President Barack Obama in a letter that was read by aloud at the event.
“The overriding theme of his life was his commitment to civil rights and equality,” Norton said. “He made his work his passion. His public relations ought to be scene in the broadest since.”
Dukes was a founding member of the Black Public Relations Society of Washington in 1993. Many of his former colleagues were in the pews on Friday.
Linda Boyd, a D.C. government spokesman, said she talked with Dukes about a problem shortly before he went to the hospital late last year. His response, she said, was classic: “Don’t sweat the small stuff because it is all small stuff any way.”
Dukes died Dec. 7, 2011. He was 79.
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