Ironically, the Afro's downward slide came in part because of the many victories it had a hand in. As legalized segregation was beaten back, the Afro lost its longest running story -- civil rights. Also, with the growth of radio and television, black people found more outlets for news about themselves. As a result, the paper relied increasingly on sensational crime news. And circulation dipped. Currently, it sells fewer than 12,000 papers a week in Baltimore.
"No newspaper is doing as well as it once did. Television and radio have taken their toll," Mr. Mitchell said. "[Also,] it's a different ballgame now. There was time when the enemy was out there open, naked and ugly. Now, racism is subtle. It is in a disguised form, and it is much harder to crusade against something you can't really see."
The plight of the Afro and other black-owned papers worsened as white newspapers began covering black communities and hiring black staffers, mainly after the urban riots of 1960s. This led to a talent drain of the top black reporters who were drawn by higher wages.
Currently, the Afro has financial problems. In 1989, the company faced more than $900,000 in debt, including state and federal tax liens. For a time, the company teetered on the edge of bankruptcy.
But Publisher John J. Oliver Jr. and President Frances M. Draper -- both of the fourth generation of the Murphy family to run the paper -- reached agreements with major creditors, many of whom accepted 25 percent payment on the debt. They also received financial help from a community fund-raising drive and a loan backed by the city and state. The tax liens, however, remain.
Despite the financial problems, and stepped-up competition from other publications, including The Baltimore Times, the Afro is looking toward the future.
"For as long as there is the separation of races you're going to have a place for an Afro-American paper," said Mr. Mitchell. "And I don't see real integration being achieved any time in the near future."