Against the Backdrop of 21st Century Racial Turmoil, The Afro-American Newspaper Celebrates Its 125th Anniversary

Prologue

On Tuesday, in Baltimore, rain poured from the sky, as if God, Himself, was mourning the aftermath of the Charlottesville protests over Confederate monuments—even before Donald Trump unmasked himself to the world as a defender of bigotry and hatred.

Yesterday morning, local television station WBAL reported that in the early morning hours, Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh had quietly yet boldy removed four Confederate statues from their perches in Baltimore parks, keeping a promise she had made public just two days before.

This is the backdrop for The Afro-American Newspaper’s 125th Anniversary commemorative edition, published on Saturday, August 12, 2017, the very day the racist Charlottesville demonstration was to take place.

A Brief History of The Afro-American Newspaper

Since the 19th century, there have been dozens of newspapers published by and for African-American communities across the country. In the Baltimore—Washington area, The Afro-American has been the primary source of news for our community.

Wikipedia describes the newspaper: “The Baltimore Afro-American, commonly known as The Afro, is a weekly newspaper published in Baltimore, Maryland, USA. It is the flagship newspaper of the Afro-American chain and the longest-running African-American family-owned newspaper in the United States, established in 1892 by John H. Murphy, Sr.”

What The AFRO Has Meant to Me

In my grandparents’ home, during my childhood, The AFRO was as important a staple as the mainstream local newspapers, The Baltimore Sun (the “liberal” paper which, then, published both morning and evening editions) and The News-American (the “conservative” paper). We regularly read all these publications throughout the week, to gain the most complete understanding of the news of the day.

But The AFRO was “our” newspaper. In it, we learned not just about hard news, but also about our achievements, our culture, our society, our history, and our legacy, from stories about national and local heroes in every sphere (politics, religion, sports, entertainment) as well as stories about everyday folks and their lives.

In addition to the Night Life of Black Baltimore, especially in the former Pennsylvania Avenue entertainment district, the activities of Black sororities and fraternities, social organizations such as The Links and Tots ‘n Teens, and debutante balls have been covered frequently. Also, local service projects sponsored by the newspaper have been featured. The Clean Block initiative provided small prizes for blocks of homes that were kept in clean, attractive condition, decorated with homemade flower gardens, many of which were planted in the center of brightly painted automobile tires. Mrs. Santa annually collected toys to be distributed to needy children.

Among those everyday people covered by The AFRO were members of my own family, and me. My uncle and aunt’s wedding and my great-grandparents’ 50th Wedding Anniversary celebration/renewal of vows were covered in detail, down to the complete guest lists. I was photographed with my mother after my graduation from Goucher College.

But in recent years, like all newspapers, print versions of The AFRO have shrunk in size and content, while online versions have increased in readership. Nevertheless, this newspaper remains an important vehicle for Black news. And no edition is more important and more relevant than the 125th edition: it is, in fact, an eerie reminder of how much—and how little—has changed in the quality of life of Black people over the past century and a quarter.

What We Need to Know from the 125th Anniversary Edition

According to the introduction by the current Managing Editor, Kamau High, the plan for this edition was “to find the most compelling and informative articles the paper has put out with an eye to highlighting unsung heroes and the AFRO employees who have made this paper what it is today.” The issue is divided into sections covering the historical eras of publication: 1892-1917, 1917-1942, 1942-1967, 1967-1992, and 1992 to the present. On the cover page of each section are headlines of critical stories from each era, and timelines of notable events in Black history are scattered throughout each section.

I was horrified by the number of stories about the KKK’s and other vigilantes’ lynching of black people, the scourge of segregation, and protests against these injustices that often ended in violence. Not just during the early eras of the paper, but continuing to the present day. There is no doubt that the paper will have much to say about last weekend’s violence in Charlottesville in this week’s (August 19, 2017) edition.

But there also highlights of the many acts of bravery and heroism by Black people: the soldiers who fought admirably in World Wars I and II, Korea, Vietnam, and beyond; the children who faced down bigots to integrate schools in the decades following the Brown v. Board of Education decision; the Civil Rights marches; the gains in Black representation in the nation’s courts, government, industry, and other areas.

Final Thoughts

In the wake of the terrorism visited upon Charlottesville, Virginia last weekend, and the utter failure of our government—especially Donald Trump and the current Republican Congress—to address this travesty of our country and its democracy, I have gone from shock to inexpressible anger and frustration with those of Trump’s ilk who do not know, much less understand, the true history of the United States. How can they conflate the monuments of our Founding Fathers with the monuments devoted to the Confederate Insurrection? How could Donald Trump defend neo-Nazis when his own daughter is married to a Jewish man? Don’t they even know that so many of our monuments are not old—the Confederate statues were largely built in the 1920s; even the Lincoln Memorial is more recent than we might think.

From anger and frustration, I’ve moved on to a renewed resolve to stand up and speak out for equality and justice, governed by moral certainty of what is universally right, good, and true.

I take comfort in the eulogy for Heather Heyer, delivered by her mother, Susan Bro: “We don’t all have to die. We don’t all have to sacrifice our lives. They tried to kill my child to shut her up. Well, guess what? You just magnified her…. You need to find in your heart that small spark of accountability. ‘What is there I can do to make the world a better place? What injustice do I see?’ … You poke that finger at yourself like Heather would have done. You take that extra step. You find a way to make a difference in the world.”

Ms. Bro, a woman who is white in skin color, joins the pantheon of mothers of color, like Sybrina Fulton (mother of Trayvon Martin), and so many others whose children have been martyred for fighting The Good Fight.

 


2 thoughts on “Against the Backdrop of 21st Century Racial Turmoil, The Afro-American Newspaper Celebrates Its 125th Anniversary

  1. I would LOVE IT if EVERY major city in the US and abroad had such a newspaper as this and the Los Angeles SENTINEL. May this already being done through partnering and collaboration. If not, hopefully it can be jump-started…

    Like

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