It’s doubtful that John H. Murphy Sr. foresaw the international role the church/community paper he cobbled together in 1892 would play as the AFRO-American Newspapers grew into an institution.
As the AFRO celebrates its 121st anniversary this month, the family-owned publication, recognized worldwide for its domestic civil rights coverage, can boast of having supported the welfare of colored peoples everywhere.
Reflecting on its role for more than a century as a key chronicler of events important to African Americans, the AFRO is observing August as a month to mark special anniversaries–Aug. 13 for the first date of publication of the AFRO, and Aug. 28 for the unprecedented March on Washington.
Lest it be thought the AFRO limited itself to fighting battles on behalf of colored peoples, the record shows the paper fought at home and abroad on behalf of freedom and justice for all – even when discrimination was prevalent in America and abroad.
For example, the AFRO sent correspondents to cover African-American troops during World War II, in Vietnam, in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Included among them were longtime Washington AFRO editor Arthur M. Carter, European Theatre; Ollie Stewart, North Africa, Italy and France; Max Johnson, Europe; Vincent Tubbs, South Pacific; and Michael Davis, Vietnam. Mrs. Elizabeth Murphy Phillips Moss became the first woman from a black newspaper accredited as a war correspondent but missed getting to a war zone after becoming ill in England.
Samuel Lacy, the AFRO’s Baseball Hall of Famer (writer’s wing) who played a role in Jackie Robinson’s barrier-breaking major league baseball entry, covered black baseball players in such places as Cuba, Mexico and the Dominican Republic. He also represented the AFRO abroad at a number of Olympics competitions.
As a charter member of the National Newspaper Publishers Association, the AFRO has continued to be involved in foreign coverage by NNPA correspondents.
For decades, through interviews and research, the AFRO brought its readers vital information about leaders and peoples from faraway Liberia, Ethiopia, Egypt and Haiti.
Over the years Washington had experienced almost every imaginable type of demonstration by citizens wanting to be heard by national officials.
Still, it had never seen anything like that 1963 march for jobs and justice – and the presidential administration of John F. Kennedy was so concerned that considerable military and police forces were made available in case things got out of hand.
Area people came on foot, in cars and by metro transit. Participants from across the country used more than 2,000 buses, 21 chartered trains and 10 chartered airliners.
Considering some of the major civil rights events in the years just before the historic march, its internationally witnessed appeal for justice and jobs could not be ignored.
There had been the Montgomery bus boycott, the sit-ins, the Freedom Ride, President Kennedy sending troops to get James Meredith into the University of Mississippi and the assassination of Miss. NAACP leader Medgar Evers.
Immediately, President Kennedy called on Congress to pass his civil rights proposal but there was skepticism that a bill could get past the opposition of Dixie congressmen.
Then there was the tragic church bombing in Birmingham that killed four young African-American girls.
When it seemed racial matters couldn’t get any worse, Birmingham Police Chief Eugene “Bull” Connor turned powerful fire hose streams of water and vicious dogs on peaceful demonstrators. The televised and print pictures shocked millions.
Then came that awful day in November 1963 when President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas.
After Vice President Lyndon Baines Johnson was sworn-in as president, he pledged to pass a strong civil rights bill.
Boldly twisting arms and skillfully enlisting the support of a good number of Republican congressmen, Johnson pushed through the 1964 Civil Rights Act and a year later the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Opponents of the 1964 Act waged an 83-day filibuster.
The NAACP’s Washington Bureau chief, Clarence Mitchell Jr., also an AFRO columnist, wrote a memorable account of the final one-man, night-long futile 14-hour filibuster by West Virginia Democratic Senator Robert Byrd, the once KKK member.
A few national spokesmen such as Malcolm X called the March on Washington little more than a circus.
History says otherwise.
Moses Newson was a former city editor for the AFRO. As a reporter, he covered many pivotal events of the later half of the twentieth century.