When news broke last week that a gunman had killed five people in the newsroom at the Capital Gazette newspaper in Annapolis, Maryland, journalists across the country felt shock, pain and sadness over the loss. Even for those Black newspaper publishers attending their annual convention hundreds of miles away in Norfolk, Virginia, the attack struck a painful yet familiar chord that never goes away.
The National Newspaper Publishers Association, now 78 years old, is the nation’s oldest and largest trade association of nearly 200 African-American-owned newspapers across the U.S. Its members often remember the pioneers of the Black Press, as they did briefly at this meeting, including anti-lynching advocate Ida B. Wells, publisher of the Memphis Free Speech. In 1892, Wells’s office was destroyed by an angry mob and threats were made on her life for writing an article denouncing the death by the lynching of three Black men falsely accused of raping three white women and for her anti-lynching advocacy that grew stronger when she left Memphis and moved to Chicago.
In 1998, the Black-owned Jackson Advocate in Jackson, Mississippi, where Maryland Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ben Jealous once worked, was firebombed in what the late Publisher Charles Tisdale said was one of 21 attacks made on the Black-owned weekly over a 20-year period. Fortunately, no lives were lost. The same happened at the Wilmington Journal in Wilmington, N.C., during the Wilmington 10’s challenge of North Carolina’s racist school system.
Attacks on truth-seekers and fact-checkers, otherwise known as journalists, strike home no matter where an incident occurs. There are those who will always remember 24-year old WHUR reporter Maurice Williams, killed in the 1977 Hanafi Muslim assault on the Wilson Building; and most recently 27-year old Capital News reporter Charnice Melton, killed on her way home from covering an assignment for the monthly newspaper.
Our hearts and prayers go out to the families of the five Gazette journalists whose lives were lost unnecessarily, and to their colleagues who experienced this life-altering event. We honor you and others who mourn while keeping the presses running. Journalists lost in the line of duty, of seeking the truth and speaking truth to power would not have it any other way.