Paper's Trail

With an electronic edition and a correspondent who covered the war in Iraq, the 114-year-old Afro American embraces change and forges ahead

November 28, 2006|By Nick Madigan | Nick Madigan,Sun Reporter

For John J. Oliver Jr., the ebullient publisher of The Afro American, it is only a few strides from the portrait of his great-grandfather, John H. Murphy - a former slave who in 1897 bought the newspaper for $200 - to his office next door, where a gleaming computer screen displays a harbinger of the future: the paper's new electronic edition.

Oliver, whose 114-year-old weekly paper, with editions in Baltimore and Washington, is the second-oldest black-owned publication in the country, has no time for people who say newspapers are dying.

To visit the new electronic version of The Afro American, go to

The Afro American

The paper was founded in 1892 by the Rev. William M. Alexander, pastor of Sharon Baptist Church, as a forum for church and community news.

In 1897, financial troubles forced the auction of the paper's presses. John H. Murphy Sr., who worked at The Afro as the printers' foreman, paid $200 for them. He controlled the paper until his death in 1922.

Within four years, Murphy's 33-year-old son, Carl, doubled the paper's circulation. An outspoken opponent of segregation and other forms of racism, he ran The Afro until his death in 1967.

On Jan. 21, 1933, The Afro published a front-page story with the headline "Two Apply at Md. U," about two black activists who were seeking entry to the University of Maryland. In truth, it was not clear that they had applied, but the story was intended, the paper's editors then said, as a "shot across the bow" to rally support for desegregating the university.

Ollie Stewart, the World War II correspondent who covered North Africa and the liberation of Paris for The Afro in August 1944, conveyed the joy of the liberation in a column reproduced in This Is Our War, a book of the Afro correspondents' reminiscences published in 1945 by the paper. "Beautiful women dashed into the streets to kiss dusty GI lads, to throw flowers and to offer wine and fruit," Stewart wrote. "It is a beautiful custom."

Once the social integration that The Afro and other black-owned newspapers had been advocating became more of a reality in the 1960s and 1970s, they found themselves, paradoxically, having to compete for advertising with white-owned businesses.

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