On October 16, 1964, the first edition of The Washington Informer was introduced to the residents of the District of Columbia. It was not the first African-American newspaper to be published here; as a matter of fact, it joined others including the nearly 60-year old Baltimore-based Afro-American, and the locally published Washington News Observer and The Capital Spotlight, both of which served the District since the early 1950s.
Publisher and founder Dr. Calvin W. Rolark had worked for a couple of the other newspapers, but decided the District needed a newspaper with a different focus and mission. He and his wife, attorney Wilhelmina Jackson Rolark, were involved in the U Street-based business and professional organizations and they were activists in the Home Rule Movement and the District's fight for self-determination. There needed to be a vehicle to serve as the voice for the growing discontentment expressed by the District's emerging Black civic and civil rights leadership.
The Washington Informer became that voice. It provided the space for local activists to speak out against housing and employment discrimination, police brutality, and a deteriorating public school system. It was through the pages of The Washington Informer that people such as Julius Hobson, the Rev. Ernest Gibson, Marion Barry, Goldie Johnson, the Rev. Douglas Moore, Jr. and the Rev. David Eaton, to name only a few, became household names because of their activism. And, The Washington Informer frequently documented the changes that resulted from a community that increasingly became sick and tired of a system that was slow to change for the benefit of all of its residents.
So when Dr. Rolark described his newspaper as a publication that carried only "positive news," he didn't mean what one journalist critically described as "cupcake journalism." It was his desire and mission to avoid stories about violence and crime often used to negatively characterize Black people and their lives. No, Rolark's positive news was about political and civic engagement, the fights and the struggles so many District residents participated in to protect and save a city abandoned by Whites, and Blacks, and ignored by national political leaders.
For 48 years, The Washington Informer covered the stories and at times, Dr. Rolark became the story, of the political, economic and social revolution which occurred here. In doing so, the Informer also encountered acts of retribution for the stances it took led by its outspoken and militant leader. Circulation was impacted by a gradually increasing number of Korean community business owners who objected to the newspaper being distributed in their stores. Advertisers who did not approve of Dr. Rolark's political views withdrew their advertising. Dr. Rolark, with the help of his wife, often threatened legal action against companies and organizations that denied The Washington Informer participation in programs he believed would benefit Black children and the community at-large. And, legislation was amended to give The Washington Informer and other local publications, of all kinds, fair consideration for government advertising.
The challenges every newspaper has faced over the past 48 years, The Washington Informer has faced, as well. The impact of integration in the past, to the Internet today, has brought advantages and disadvantages for nearly everyone in the publishing industry. It's a challenge we will continue to face for years to come.
In 1994, the leadership of The Washington Informer passed to the next generation with Dr. Rolark's daughter, Denise Rolark Barnes, taking over the helm. While succession plans to family members are not guaranteed to succeed, under Rolark Barnes' leadership, the newspaper has continued to fulfill the mission of its founder.
For now, we know that The Washington Informer will continue on its mission of publishing "positive news" about the District and the surrounding areas. In print and online, the Informer will continue to document the stories that will become history for the next generation. For those who have stuck with us over the past 48 years including those who have worked for the publication, we say "thank you" for your dedication and support.
It has been a pleasure to serve you and we look forward to many more years of serving you and telling the positive news "positive story."