African-American newspaper, Spokesman-Recorder, bringing vital information for 8 decades

One of the state's oldest Black-owned businesses report advertising is up during the pandemic

Sloane Martin
September 14, 2020 - 10:07 pm
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In a time when already struggling media companies are being hit hard by the ripple effects of the coronavirus pandemic, some are worried about the future of Black-owned media and news sources.

During the Great Migration of the first part of the 20th Century, African Americans moved north looking for opportunity, freedom and prosperity as Jim Crow laws gripped the south. Seventeen-year-old Cecil Newman was one of them.

“He knew that in Kansas City, the opportunities for minorities, specially African Americans, at that time, were not great, but he thought that Minnesota would give him more of an opportunity to begin a voice for the Black community,” Newman’s granddaughter and current Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder publisher and CEO Tracey Williams-Dillard said.

In 1934 Newman started the Minneapolis Spokesman. To increase revenue he founded the St. Paul Recorder. But Newman, like many Black Americans, found the north was not always more hospitable or less racist.

“One of his first experiences (in Minnesota), he went to a restaurant and ordered a hamburger,” Williams-Dillard said. “The hamburger was laced with salt. He said he knew then that he still had a long way to go.”

Ever since Frederick Douglass started The North Star in 1847, there’s been an appetite for media written by and for the Black community. The Chicago Defender and Pittsburgh Courier took off in the early 20th Century bringing important news about public health during the 1918 flu pandemic. Others like the Spokesman-Recorder followed, all along the way challenging racist narratives that pervaded society.

Williams-Dillard said Newman’s stature as a respected newspaper publisher gave him access to white institutions, allowing him to promote on behalf of the Black community.

“They relied on him to be their voice to help him to understand the African-American community,” she said, “but also to know that the people he was recommending for them to give opportunities to, that he wasn’t picking anybody, that he was picking people who could do the job. So he opened a lot of doors for the African-American community.”

Now the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder publishes not just general news, sports and politics, but enterprise stories, including about the disparate impact of COVID-19 on Black and communities of color.

“On so many different occasions over the years, there was a lot of information out that wasn’t trustworthy and they lost a lot of trust from the Black community as a result of it,” Williams-Dillard said.

California Rep. Karen Bass in April wrote a letter to congressional leaders calling on federal funding to support Black newspapers due to the number of people who rely on them for information. Though Williams-Dillard reports advertising is up at the Spokesman-Recorder, she is already talking to her daughter and nephew about the future of the family business.

“The stories that we tell would bever be told and it's very important that they’re told.

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