During some of the most turbulent times in American history, especially the civil rights movement, esteemed journalist Moses Newson risked his life to provide accurate insight from the frontlines of the fight for equality in the pages of the AFRO. He ranks among the most prolific journalists.
Moses Newson in 1972. (AFRO File Photo)
Coming from Fruitland Park, Fl. during the early 1900’s, Newson’s found his life’s motivation at a young age by reading the weekly newspapers. Those newspapers led Newson down a path of using words to paint pictures that would ultimately earn him a spot in the Hall of Fame for the Maryland-Delaware-District of Columbia Press Association in 2008 and the National Association of Black Journalists Hall of Fame in 2014. But it was Newson’s time in the U.S. Navy following high school from 1945-47, which granted him the G.I. Bill to afford college, earning a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Lincoln University.
It’s been a long while since Newson worked a beat, traveling the world to report on the happenings. On February 5, Newson will turn 90 years old, yet his mind says different. Newson walked away from the Baltimore Afro American Newspaper in 1978, after 21 years as a reporter then executive editor. After that, he worked 17 years for the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare, still writing, just in a different capacity. That love of writing brought him out of retirement to pen the autobiography of fellow AFRO journalist, and friend, Sam Lacy, 1998’s Fighting For Fairness: The Life Story of Hall of Fame Sportswriter Sam Lacy.
Newson’s brain is still sharp and possesses the ability to vividly recount monumental moments in Black history that he covered in the pages of the AFRO more than 50 years ago.
Like his memory of the 1961 Freedom Rides, when Moses and a group of protestors nearly lost their lives. On a bus of protestors attempting to infiltrate south of the Mason-Dixon in a fight against segregation, Moses and those aboard were nearly killed by bigots in opposition.
“Some of the people fighting against the freedom riders said they would never get out of Alabama alive,” Newson told the AFRO.
And they nearly didn’t, after things went haywire and protestors were beaten to a bloody pulp, they narrowly escaped to a hospital. There, Newson and others were trapped inside, surrounded by hysterical groups of aggressors, spearheaded by the Ku Klux Klan.
Yet and still, despite drastic measures, Newson finds humor in the situation. Looking back on the tumultuous times that nearly cost him his life for the sake of journalism.
“In this kind of work, you just do it,” said Newson.
Like in 1962, when Newson headed to the University of Mississippi to report on James Meredith, the first Black man admitted to the then-segregated institution. After immense tension and violence, with rioting resulting in the deployment of the Mississippi National Guard onto campus, Newson evaded tear gas canisters and picketers to report the facts.
It’s that hard-nosed focus, the ability to fight the urge to fight back against the insurmountable odds or to give up on his job altogether that makes Newson celebrated today.
Newson’s list of accomplishments as a journalist would far exceed the space allowed for this dedication. But some are worth noting, like his car ride interview in 1968 with Dr. Martin Luther King, one of King’s last one-on-one interviews.
It came as King was organizing the Poor People’s March, perched in the backseat of a speedy vehicle headed to a private plane. Accompanying King was his wife Coretta Scott, with the vehicle being driven by singer and actor Harry Belafonte.
In contrast to how he is viewed today, Dr. King faced harsh scrutiny for his views on the Vietnam War.
“Dr. King was under an awful lot of pressure, he had to do the right thing” said Newson. “It was an interesting although brief interview.”
In a career in which Newson covered some of the most important moments in modern history, there are still things he regrets not covering as a journalist. Including the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955-56.
“That was a situation where Black people stood together in a way where I don’t remember them having done before or after.”
For 21 years at the AFRO, Newson spoke for the people that had no voice, telling the story of the unheralded. That time at the AFRO are some of the times of Newson’s life that he cherishes most. So much that he can’t single out a single moment.
“There were just so many times when we did things that we were all proud of,” said Newson.
And here at the AFRO, we are proud to have helped you etch your name in history.
Happy Birthday Moses Newson.