Joseph Varney Baker: The First African-American to Found a PR Agency

Joseph Varney Baker

[Editor’s Note: This is one in a series of articles about the history of PR as part of our celebration of PRNEWS’ 75th anniversary. The series is a partnership with the Museum of Public Relations.]

Jared Meade, Principal, Rayne Strategy Group

Ask PR pros about priorities facing the profession and an overwhelming number of answers will involve the need for greater diversity. Though diversity is a critical issue in PR, as a profession we have done a subpar job of acknowledging pioneers of diversity in communications’ history.

As we approach Black History Month in February, it is an ideal time to honor PR trailblazers. Communicators need to make sure these pioneers are included in PR textbooks so that they can serve as role models to students. For those of us in the industry, learning about these pioneers inspires us to do more for diversity and inclusion.

Joseph Varney Baker is one of those trailblazers who should be better known. Born August 20, 1908, in Abbeville, South Carolina, he attended Abbeville State Teachers Training School. In the 1920s, the teenager moved to Philadelphia, graduated from Central High School and eventually studied journalism at Temple University.

His storied career began as a reporter at the Philadelphia Tribune, the African-American newspaper. Eventually he worked his way up to city editor.


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