For nearly a century and a half, The AFRO-American Newspaper has served as a “voice” for Black Americans. The publication has been in existence since August 13, 1892, when John Henry Murphy Sr., a former slave who gained freedom following the passage of the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863, started the paper. Murphy, Sr. merged his church publication, The Sunday School Helper with two other church publications, The Ledger (owned by George F. Bragg of Baltimore’s St. James Episcopal Church) and The AFRO-American (published by Reverend William M. Alexander, pastor of Baltimore’s Sharon Baptist Church).

(William Alexander)
First Editor of the Afro American, Reverend William Alexander, ca. 1919. Courtesy of the AFRO American Newspapers Archives.

By 1922, Murphy had evolved the newspaper from a one-page weekly church publication into the most widely circulated Black paper along the coastal Atlantic and used it to challenge Jim Crow practices in Maryland. Over the course of its illustrious history, the paper has covered countless stories involving Black America including: lynchings; church burnings; the Emmitt Till trial; The Freedom Riders; and The Little Rock Nine.

Today, The AFRO, as many people have come to call the publication, is still going strong and continues to fulfill the vision of John Henry Murphy, Sr. by continuing to serve as a platform to advance the Black community. In celebration of its 130th Anniversary, the historic publication will be holding a Gala. The AFRO Gala will take place on Saturday, August 13, 2022 at Martin’s Crosswinds located at 7400 Greenway Center Drive in Greenbelt, Maryland. The Black-Tie affair will feature Kid Capri, Tommy Davidson, and Absolute Music featuring Temika Moore.

(Murphy John Sr 1 6)
John H. Murphy, Sr. (seated) at the former AFRO office on St. Paul St., ca. 1900s.
Courtesy of the AFRO American Newspapers Archives.

“I congratulate The Baltimore AFRO-American Newspaper on it’s 130th Anniversary,” said Baltimore Times Publisher Joy Bramble. “What an achievement! The AFRO and The Baltimore Times were once next door neighbors in the 2500 block of Charles Street. It was indeed an honor to sit directly next to a fellow publication who also sought to uplift and tell the stories of people of color through the pages of its paper. The AFRO is the epitome of resilience, and the fact that the paper has been in existence for so many years is a testament of that resilience.”

Dr. Frances ‘Toni’ Draper is the Chairman of the Board and Publisher of The AFRO-American Newspapers.

(Frances Murphy Draper)
Current CEO & Publisher of the AFRO American Newspapers, Frances “Toni” Draper. Courtesy of Frances Draper.

“One hundred and thirty years is quite a milestone,” said Dr. Draper. “It makes us the oldest Black business in Maryland, and the third oldest in the United States. I can’t imagine what it must have been like for my great-grandfather, his wife, and the founders of the AFRO to start a newspaper in 1892 when less than two percent of the Black population could read. He was also a sergeant in what was known as The Colored Troops. But he started a newspaper to talk about what was happening in the Black community. We talk today about how hard business can be. But I can’t imagine how difficult that must have been. That was quite an undertaking.”

Murphy Sr. founded The AFRO with $200 from his wife Martha Howard Murphy.

“Martha Murphy doesn’t get a lot of mentions,” said Dr. Draper. “But it cost $200 to buy the name and the printing press at an auction, and it was the $200 she had. When you look at an early editions, they were writing about what was happening in churches, neighborhoods, about policies, and other things.”

“Those are the same types of things people want to know today. What is happening in my neighborhood and what is happening in my city.”

Dr. Draper said the couple had 10 children.

“They had five boys and five girls, one of whom was my grandfather Carl J. Murphy who served as Publisher of the paper for the longest from 1922 when his dad died to 1967 when he died.”

Carl Murphy and his wife Vashti Turley Murphy – one of the founding members of Delta Sigma Theta had five daughters. Under the editorial control of Carl Murphy, The AFRO-American Newspaper rose to national prominence. He served as its editor-publisher for 45 years. The newspaper was circulated in Baltimore, with regional editions circulated in Washington, D.C. twice weekly and in Philadelphia, Richmond, and Newark, once a week. At one time there were as many as 13 editions circulated across the country. The AFRO-American’s status as a Black paper circulating in several predominantly Black communities endowed it with the ability to profoundly affect social change on a national scale.

Dr. Carl Murphy, former President of the AFRO American Newspapers 1967 – 1971, undated. Courtesy of the AFRO American Newspapers Archives.

Carl Murphy used the editorial pages of The Afro-American to push for the hiring of African Americans by Baltimore’s police and fire departments; to press for black representation in the legislature; and for the establishment of a state supported university to educate African Americans.

“I had the good fortune to work for The AFRO during an especially exciting period in history for  African Americans and for the  Black Press,” said retired journalist, editor and educator, Dr. E. Lee Lassiter. “I was a Copy Editor for the National Edition from 1960 to 1965. We were competing with such great newspapers as The Chicago Defender and The Pittsburg Courier and covering such events as the Emmett Till murder, the Sit Ins, Freedom Rides and The March on Washington. It was a joy to watch and work with media giants like Moses Newson, Sam Lacy, George Collins, William Worthy and Raymond Boone. The AFRO has served  the community well.”

(Dr. E. Lee Lassiter)
Veteran retired journalist, Dr. E. Lee Lassiter, served as a Copy Editor for the paper’s National Edition from 1960 until 1965.

To purchase tickets for The AFRO Gala, visit AFRO.COM.

Coming Next Week: Part 2.

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