AFRO at 130: A Word from Editor Frances “Toni” Draper

The not-so-secret secret to success: “Believe in yourself, in God, and in the present generation.”

“A newspaper succeeds because its management believes in itself, in God and in the current generation. He must always ask himself: if he has kept the faith with ordinary people; if it has no other purpose than to ensure that their freedoms are preserved and their future assured; if it fights to get rid of slums, to provide jobs for everyone; if he stays out of politics, except to expose corruption and condemn injustice, racial prejudice and the cowardice of compromise. The AFRO-American must become a bi-weekly, then a tri-weekly and finally, when advertising justifies it, a daily. He has always had a loyal constituency that believes him to be honest, decent and progressive. It’s that kind of diary now, and I hope it never changes. It is to these high hopes and goals of achievement that the people who make your AFRO are dedicated. God willing, they won’t fail.

These words, written by John Henry Murphy Sr. (1840-1922) were written two years before his death. Great-grandfather Murphy, with $200 in venture capital from his wife Martha Elizabeth Howard Murphy (a founding member of the Baltimore Colored Young Women’s Association), bought the AFRO name and a printing press at a sale at auction.

As an emancipated man and a sergeant during the Civil War, the 52-year-old laundryman understood what it meant to work hard to achieve his goals. He and his great-grandmother Martha had 11 children, 10 of whom survived to adulthood. Most of their descendants worked in the family business, including my grandfather Carl James Greenbury Murphy who succeeded his father as publisher (1922-1967).

Initially, the newspaper was strictly supported by readers, although some felt that an overwhelming majority of African Americans (98%) could not read. However, the subscriber base grew and the one-page newspaper expanded to 13 editions printed on AFRO’s own printing presses operated by highly skilled unionized workers. In turn, advertisers saw the AFRO as one of the best ways to market their goods and services to an ever-growing and ever-influential African-American population.

Readers have trusted (and still trust) AFRO and other black publications not only to print the truth, but also to be the primary source of accurate and assertive information for and about our diverse communities. Stories about weddings, funerals, graduations, church, sporting and social events filled the pages of AFRO, along with current “news” of the day, including the seemingly endless fight for quality jobs, equal pay, housing, education, health care, security and public housing. And then there was the hugely popular AFRO Cooking School, which drew thousands of people to the Fifth Regiment Armory in Baltimore each year, as many competed for new appliances and other prizes for their culinary skills. Today we have a weekly online cooking show hosted by our Jackson State intern, Aria Brent. We also released a 130e birthday cookbook that includes some of those old recipes from our cooking school days. Other signature AFRO programs include AFRO Clean Block (one of the oldest ongoing environmental programs in the country) and Mrs. Santa. Both still exist.

AFRO Editor Frances “Toni” Draper.

Since 1892, hundreds of dedicated men and women have worked tirelessly to realize the founder’s vision. But we have to admit to Great-Grandpa Murphy that we didn’t always “stay out of politics”. Since the early 1900s, we’ve backed our election picks, including our most recent endorsement of young, energetic, highly qualified Democratic nominee for Governor, Wes Moore, as well as Brooke Lierman for Comptroller and Anthony Brown for Attorney General (the AFRO you found!). Today, we continue to champion social and political change (including the right to vote), as we advocate for equal opportunity and access for all and tell the stories of our community’s joys and sorrows.

In the age of social media and on-demand news, we have outgrown great-grandfather’s desire for AFRO to become a daily newspaper. We constantly post on AFRO.com, Meta (over 650,000 followers) and Instagram and Twitter (over 12,000 followers on each platform). We even ventured onto TikTok! And, with the help of AFRO Charities, Inc., we are working hard to preserve our vast archive containing over 3 million photographs, so that more people can learn about our rich history and legacy.

AFRO is the oldest black family-owned newspaper in the United States and the oldest black-owned business in Maryland. This year, we received several awards from the MDDC Press Association, as well as the coveted National Newspaper Publishers Association John B. Russwurm Trophy for journalistic excellence (including best website). And on Saturday, August 13 (go to afro.com for tickets), we’ll be joined by hundreds of supporters, including elected officials, advertisers, community leaders, AFRO team members, board members of administration of AFRO and several descendants of John and Martha Murphy for our 130e anniversary gala with Tommy Davidson, the Absolute Music Band with Temika Moore and DJ Kid Capri.

We are also grateful to our exceptional team of young (and old) journalists, graphic designers, sales specialists, social media and technology gurus, finance professionals, board members, industry partners and past and present media executives, including the former editor of AFRO. , Moses Newson, 95, who plans to attend the gala on Saturday.

Special thanks to our gala sponsors: AARP, Johns Hopkins University, BGE, The Baltimore Urban League, Murphy, Falcon Law, TEDCO, George Mason Mortgage/United Bank, BWI-Thurgood Marshall Airport, Bank of America, Truist Bank, March Funeral Homes, Comcast, PNC Bank; our CarVerPR event planner; and all those who sent us their congratulations either in the 130e souvenir journal or in this wonderful special edition.

We are also grateful to our readers and viewers! It is thanks to you that we have been able to tell our stories for more than a century. Thanks to our editorial team, led by the Rev. Dorothy Boulware and Alexis Taylor; our publicity team, led by Lenora Howze; our production team, led by Denise Dorsey; our finance team, led by Bonnie Deanes; our social media and technology teams, led by Kevin and Dana Peck and ALL the super talented members of our AFRO team.

We hope you enjoy reading this special anniversary edition as much as we enjoyed browsing through our rich history. In effect, “A newspaper succeeds because its management believes in itself, in God and in the current generation.”

Here’s another 130 more!

Frances Murphy (Toni) Draper, CEO and Publisher

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