In the true spirit of “Soldiers without Swords,” the Afro-American Newspapers has made the fight for social justice and personhood, as well as the tenets of journalistic integrity an integral part of its 125-year history. Established on Aug. 13, 1892, by John Henry Murphy Sr., a former slave, the newspaper gave a voice to the voiceless and developed into an internationally known and respected Black family-owned publication by the 1920s.
Whether in the Deep South, Chicago, Detroit, Omaha, Neb. or Los Angeles, the AFRO’s pages became crucial spaces in the development of Black identity, codes of respectability, and the norms and mores that would come to broadly define “Blackness.”
“The continued mission of this newspaper is to carry forth its legacy of informing the African American and other minority communities of relative news and challenging threats to their civil rights as American citizens,” Jake Oliver, AFRO’s CEO and publisher, said.
The AFRO has accomplished significant milestones throughout its history, weathering social, political, and economic tides to stand as one of the leading, longest-lasting continuously published family-owned Black news outlets in the United States. The AFRO has also been lauded for its digital accomplishments, maintaining social media avenues that have reached millions of viewers over the years.
“We plan to continue to do this by taking advantage of new technologies to more effectively connect and expand readership in this country and other countries around the world,” Oliver said.
Lee Ross-Clark, a Ward 6 resident and long-time supporter of the AFRO, said that even before migrating from the Mississippi Delta to the District, the newspaper was heralded and revered among Southern Blacks as a tool for uplift and a representation of Black achievement. “It can be difficult to express how important it was while living in a place of stark segregation and racial trauma – where every Black man was a boy and every Black woman was vulnerable to attack – to have powerful reminders of better,” Ross-Clark told the AFRO. “There was a particular level of pride and respectability that came with subscribing to the Afro-American. It helped us see beyond the immediate circumstances we faced as sharecroppers to the larger world of Black physicians, teachers, politicians and soldiers.”
Ross-Clark told of D.C.-based relatives whose participation in wars or experiences during the 1919 Red Summer – which saw thousands of Blacks injured or killed through White mob violence –were expressed through the pages of the newspaper. In fact, whether it was race riots, Andrew McCarthy’s Red Scare in the 1940s, the service of Black men and women in each of America’s war, or the birth of rap and hip hop, the AFRO acted as both witness and storyteller.
“The Afro-American has been my family since I came from Florida in 1984, from the moment I started writing for them – it was an honor representing my people,” current AFRO writer Hamil Harris said. “From the White House and Congress, to Southeast, I never put down the charge made years ago when the Afro-American deposed war correspondents to report from the front line, that ‘this is our war.’”
Harris said that by having Black soldiers as correspondents, the Afro-American set a precedent by bringing Black America onto the front lines of international events. Under the direction of Art Carter, a longtime AFRO editor, Harris said the newspaper decided “our stories weren’t going to be told by anyone else.”
“That is the continuing legacy of the AFRO – the belief that they are the voice, the ears, and the final word, when it comes to conveying Black stories. I remember covering the Republican Convention when Alan Keyes fought to make a speech at the Republican Convention in 1984; the AFRO was there . . . I remember the Persian Gulf War and the first time Dick Cheney called on me as a representative of the Afro-American; or even during Clarence Thomas’ nomination, you see me sitting or sleeping back there behind him,” Harris said. “This is still our war . . . and it doesn’t matter if I was a freelancer or staff writer, it is our legacy to fight on.”
Harris said that even as the tools that shape journalism change, he believes the Afro-American will continue to push forward. “We had town halls now we have chats and clouds, but the human heart does not change. And that is the power of the Afro-American – firmly placing their hands to the pulse of its people, and giving them the platform to be heard,” Harris said.