The AFRO-American Newspaper celebrated 130 years in existence on Aug. 13, 2022. The AFRO Gala was a grand affair, drawing the attendance of prestigious elected officials, community leaders and former paper boys and girls. Comedian Tommy Davidson hosted the event, which took place at Martin's Crosswinds in Greenbelt, Md.

By Tinashe Chingarande,
Special to the AFRO

Mayor Scott, Congressman Mfume among those in attendance

Elected leaders and supporters of the AFRO-American Newspaper convened for a lavish gala on Aug. 13 in Greenbelt, Md. to celebrate the publication’s 130th anniversary.

The soiree included live entertainment and was hosted by comedian Tommy Davidson. All in attendance had a good time, but the anniversary was of special significance to those who helped the AFRO sustain as paper boys and girls, managers, editors or beloved readers. 

“I started reading the sports page when Sam Lacey was the sports editor,” said William Davis, 80. The Baltimore native started as an AFRO paperboy in 1952. Davis fondly remembers selling copies of the AFRO in the city. 

Davis added that a highlight of his time at the AFRO was a reward he received for selling 80 papers— a trip to witness the New York Giants play the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1953. 

“To see these Black professionals play ball was an amazing experience,” he said. 

“I just love the idea that [we’re] celebrating 130 years,” said Davis, who now works as an ordained minister. 

The AFRO Gala was sponsored by a myriad of companies including AARP, Bank of America, BGE, Johns Hopkins University, TEDCO and the Greater Baltimore Urban League and more. All paid homage to the AFRO for being the oldest family-owned, continuously published Black newspaper in the country, oldest Black-owned business in Maryland, and the third oldest family business in the country.

“I think that John Henry Murphy, Sr. would be thrilled to see that his vision is still alive and well 130 years later,” said Draper. “With the advent of social media, digital, video and streaming, the methods have changed but the AFRO and other Black newspapers are still the most trusted sources of news and information for the Black community.”

The event brung out at least 20 Murphy descendants, proud to see the legacy continued. Congressman Kweisi Mfume (D-District 7), who gave a toast to the newspaper’s “bright future ahead” was also present along with Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott.

“In times when mainstream media has forgotten about the Black community, the AFRO was —and remains— steadfast in ensuring the community is covered thoroughly and fairly,” he said in a letter to the AFRO ahead of the gala. 

Sen. Antonio Hayes (D-District 40) also remarked on the AFRO’s legacy of serving the Black community. Although he wasn’t in attendance at the event, he penned a letter to the paper that was published as part of the anniversary souvenir journal. 

“You speak truth. You have been bold in your support of candidates that will work to serve our community,” he said. “Thank you for always representing the culture.”

Awards and honors were conferred at the event. Draper was named publisher of the year earlier this summer by the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA). The AFRO also received the John B. Russwurm Award, an honor reserved for the top overall NNPA member publication. Both awards were physically presented for the first time during the gala by NNPA President and CEO Dr. Benjamin Chavis Jr.

“It was extremely well-deserved,” said Lenora Howze, executive director of the AFRO. Howze has been with the paper for 10 years. 

“Dr. Draper is such an incredible leader and I’m proud to be a part of her team,” she said. 

Tribute from Johns Hopkins University

In addition to Draper’s accolades, Howze’s highlight of the evening was the congratulatory remarks the paper received, over email, from Black icons such as Rev. Al Sharpton and Rev. Jesse Jackson. 

Draper herself presented a special token of appreciation to veteran journalist and former AFRO editor Moses Newson for contributing decades of cutting edge journalism to the paper. 

Howze also described Newson’s presence at the event as being significant. 

“To hear and see from living history and to know what he went through as a journalist— knowing how difficult and dangerous it was— was very meaningful,” said Howze.

Newson joined the AFRO in 1957 as a reporter and city editor for the newspaper’s twice weekly editions. He was later promoted to executive editor, a role in which he spent 10 years overseeing the paper’s 13-edition chain and its offices in Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Richmond, Va., and Newark, N.J.

During his tenure, he covered the murder of Emmett Till in Mississippi and desegration feats in Hoxie, Ark., Clinton, Tenn., and at the University of Mississippi. He also reported on the 1961 CORE Freedom Ride, the independence ceremony in the Bahamas and a myriad of events in Nigeria, South Africa, Panama and Cuba. 

The event closed out with AFRO family and friends on the dance floor with records spun by DJ Kid Capri.

View additional photos and videos from the Gala here!

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