By Stacy M. Brown,
NNPA Newswire Senior National Correspondent,
In a captivating interview held at the National Newspaper Publishers Association’s studios in Washington, Dr. Frances “Toni” Draper, the Chairwoman of the Board and Publisher of the AFRO American Newspapers, reflected on the remarkable journey of the Murphy family and the 131-year legacy of the Afro-American Newspaper.
The interview, which will air later this fall on PBS’s “The Chavis Chronicles,” examined the newspaper’s historical significance as well as Draper’s fundamental role in carrying on its purpose. Draper also addressed the growing importance of Black women and the continuous necessity for a profitable Black Press, as well as future AFRO enterprises that will expand its reach beyond Baltimore and Washington.
Draper announced that The AFRO will roll out its latest digital media innovation, the Digital Billboard Network (DBN). The DBN is the first project in Maryland, with TV screens at 10 locations in Randallstown and Owings Mills. The DBN launch will enable host businesses to expand their reach through the AFRO’s audience network. “This innovation is a celebration of Black business excellence, and the opportunities we can create when we champion one another,” Draper revealed.
“As a multi-generation Black-owned family business, the AFRO has been a strong supporter of our fellow businesses and entrepreneurs. We strive to champion our community’s businesses and offer them access to valuable news that meets audiences where they are, without paywall barriers.”
Draper added that onsite screens will feature original content from AFRO programs, including AFRO social, and clips from shows like The Chicken Boxx, AFRO News at Noon (ish), AFRO Cooking Live, and more. The innovation represents still another chapter in the storied history of the AFRO and the newspaper’s founders.
Draper’s family’s story begins with John Henry Murphy Sr., a man of immense courage and conviction. He bravely fought in the Civil War and eventually received the freedom he and his fellow soldiers had worked hard to achieve. At the age of 52, with a family of ten children, Murphy embarked on an audacious endeavor with just $200 in hand: to establish a newspaper that would come to be known as the Afro-American. His pioneering spirit marked the birth of a legacy that would transcend generations.
Through captivating narratives, Draper painted a vivid picture of the family’s journey. John Henry Murphy Sr. transformed from a printer to a publisher, leveraging the power of the press to champion the causes of his community. “The newspaper’s founding principles of empowerment and advocacy set the stage for future generations, including me, to carry forward this impactful mission,” Draper remarked.
Born on December 18, 1947, in Baltimore, Maryland, Dr. Frances Murphy Draper is a beacon of continuity and progress. Her educational journey, from Morgan State University to Johns Hopkins University and beyond, is a testament to her commitment to learning and leadership. She has inspired positive change as a pastor, community leader, and esteemed figure. From her role as the manager of the New Jersey edition of the AFRO to her tenure as the company president, she has woven herself into the fabric of the publication’s history.
Draper’s illustrious career has marked an unyielding commitment to education, community development, and equality. As a dynamic force in the community, Draper has lent her expertise to numerous boards, including those of Morgan State University and Loyola College. Her accomplishments have earned her prestigious recognition, including being named one of Maryland’s Top 100 Women and a place in the Maryland Circle of Excellence.
“The Black hand that rocks the cradle rules the world, so I think Black women have an important role to play,” Draper remarked. “I think Black women have risen to the point of real leadership in this country. Not just in the vice presidency and Supreme Court, but if you look at corporate America, Black women are starting to infiltrate the board rooms across the country. Black women tend to be organized. Black women helped to get President Biden elected.”
In her more than 30-minute discussion with Chavis, Draper also emphasized the importance of the AFRO and the Black Press. “Black lives have always mattered and continue to matter to us,” she affirmed. “The Black Press has always mattered and continues to matter. So many things covered by the AFRO over the years were being ignored by the mainstream press. The AFRO covered not just the headline things that all of us know about like the March on Washington, but they covered Jesse Owens when he won the Olympics. We were there.”