Wednesday, February 18, 2009

PR lessons from the Civil Rights movement

Given that it's Black History Month, it seems fitting to take a moment to take a moment to examine the Civil Rights movement through a PR lens.

[image: Civil Rights March on Washington, D.C., Leaders marching from the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial, August 28, 1963.
source: National Archives]

From a PR perspective, the Civil Rights movement made its mark with powerful images.

Images of young people in suits and dresses denied service at lunch counters, old ladies with handbags and hats denied the right to vote, children surrounded by soldiers as they walked to school, fire hoses and dogs turned on civilians as they marched peacefully, and many many more. These images combined to create a clear case for why change was needed, and why those who stood in its way were on the wrong side of morality.

Those images were, in many cases, orchestrated by the leadership of the day, and they served their purpose well. (Rosa Parks was, for instance, specially trained as an activist and was the secretary of the Montgomery chapter of the NAACP).

Iconic, compelling images can do more to shift culture than legal or legislative changes. When those images do not occur organically, they can be created, captured, and widely circulated.

This is, of course, classic PR. And it is the one lesson of the Civil Rights movement of the 1960's that has yet to be fully internalized by the movements that have followed it - including today's most energized civil rights movement - the post-Proposition 8 incarnation of the Gay Rights movement.

Had this more modern movement taken a lesson from the tightly-scripted visual storytelling campaign at the core of the Civil Rights movement, it's possible that particular battle would have gone quite differently.

It's all speculation, of course, but the point is that PR matters. As much today as it did then.


Maria said...


Review Daddy said...

They wearing suit in their protest I guess they need also wear cowboy boot to suit their attire.

Mens Suits said...

Yeah that was a mens suits exactly!

Unknown said...

OMG that is so absolutely stupid! you are saying that it was accepted because of the way they dressed? I have news for you....That is the way EVERYBODY dressed back then! Men wore suits ties and hats and women wore dresses gloves and hats. People did not start dressing casually until after the Hippies came about and then fashion changed forever.