Family-owned legacy newspapers have played a critical role in serving and amplifying the voices of Black communities for centuries. These newspapers cover issues often ignored by mainstream news outlets while advocating for the needs of their readers. Over multiple generations, these institutions have become indispensable to the communities that they serve.
The Miami Times, the Oklahoma Eagle in Tulsa, and Black Voice News in Riverside, California, have all been passed down through the family for decades. Each new generation has found themselves tackling the unique media challenges of their time while continuing the fight for recognition and respect.
Growing up in a newspaper family, the current leaders of all three newspapers describe a childhood filled — if not dominated — by the paper. Business conversations took place at the dinner table, and family members were encouraged to gain experience by working in all aspects of the business, from sales to advertising to editorial.
The Oklahoma Eagle, which was founded in the wake of the 1921 Tulsa race riots, was bought by the Goodwin family in 1936. James O. Goodwin Sr., publisher of the Eagle, recalls his childhood in the 1940s, when as a five-year-old he sold newspapers and helped clean the printing press under his father’s watchful eye. His mother, siblings and children have all worked at the newspaper over the years.
Bahamian immigrant Henry E. Sigismund Reeves founded the Miami Times in 1923, and his great-grandson, Garth C. Reeves III, is the current publisher.
“I always tell people that I wasn’t exactly told, ‘Oh, you can be whatever you want to be when you grow up,’” said Reeves. “It was always pretty well understood — this is what I was going to do.”
Black Voice News was founded by students at University of California, Riverside in 1972, and bought by Paulette Brown-Hinds’ parents in 1980. Now the paper’s publisher, Brown-Hinds says that the newspaper was like another sibling in her childhood, but the value of the work was always clear.
“My parents were always inspired by the credo of the Black Press — pleading our own cause — and elevated journalism principles of accountability and truth in their work,” says Brown Hinds. “I always understood the power of the newspaper in our community and had ultimate respect for it and our role as stewards.”
The importance of these institutions was clear to all the newspaper leaders from a young age. Newspapers like these were crucial in keeping Black residents informed, especially in segregated areas. Politicians knew that Black newspapers, like preachers, had an enormous sway with their constituents, making the paper’s owners important figures within their communities.
But Black owned media always struggled to attract advertising. In Miami, Reeves says that even though the city is 17% Black, the Times is an “afterthought” for most potential advertisers. In California, Brown-Hinds says that the issues that her parents faced in securing government contracts and corporate advertising still exist for her and other Black news publishers.
These days, all three publishers are looking to the future. At The Eagle and Black Voice News, the newsrooms have focused heavily on data journalism, using statistics to tell stories about their local communities and the Black population at large. The Eagle, for instance, produced a series exploring how the pandemic impacted education in Tulsa, particularly for Black and brown students.
In Miami, Reeves says the Times is looking at how big stories like climate change will impact its readers.
“There’s other things that are going on that are sexier and more fun to talk about, but these are things that are going to matter sooner rather than later,” said Reeves. “And we want to make sure that we keep our readers, our community, informed and prepared for whatever may come.”
All three publications say that the Black press’ role as advocates for their readers has been the key to building trust with their communities. Rather than approaching news stories as outside observers, journalists at these Black newspapers have embraced their position as champions of their communities.
“My father told me as a young man that if I kept this newspaper, I would always be a source of influence,” Goodwin said. ”He never emphasized for myself personally, but to be a voice for those who didn’t have a voice. And so I stuck to that.”
More notable multi-generational Black newspapers
In Washington, D.C, The Washington Informer was founded in 1964 by Calvin W. Rolark to serve the city’s Black community. These days, his daughter Denise Rolark Barnes serves as publisher.
New York Amsterdam News was founded in 1909, changing ownership many times in the following century. But in 1996, publisher Wilbert A. Tatum became the sole owner and soon passed it down to his daughter, current publisher Elinor Ruth Tatum.
Also in Washington, D.C., The AFRO-American was launched in 1892 by John Henry Murphy Sr., a formerly enslaved person, and his wife Martha Howard Murphy. Their great-grandchildren continue to manage The AFRO.
In 1962, William Hanford Lee and his wife Kathryn Lee founded The Sacramento Observer. Now, their son Larry continues on as president and publisher of The Observer Media Group.
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