The not-so secret of success: “Believe in yourself, in God and the present generation.”
“A newspaper succeeds because its management believes in itself, in God and in the present generation. It must always ask itself: whether it has kept faith with the common people; whether it has no other goal except to see that their liberties are preserved and their future assured; whether it is fighting to get rid of slums, to provide jobs for everybody; whether it stays out of politics except to expose corruption and condemn injustice, race prejudice and the cowardice of compromise. The AFRO-American must become a semi-weekly, then a tri-weekly and eventually when advertising warrants, a daily. It has always had a loyal constituency which believes it to be honest, decent and progressive. It is that kind of newspaper now, and I hope that it never changes. It is to these high hopes and goals of achievement that the people who make your AFRO have dedicated themselves. God willing, they shall not fail.”
These words, penned by John Henry Murphy Sr. (1840-1922) were written two years before his death. Great grandpa Murphy, with $200 in venture capital from his wife Martha Elizabeth Howard Murphy (a founding member of the Baltimore Colored Young Women’s Association), purchased the name AFRO and a printing press at an auction.
As an emancipated man and a sergeant in the Civil War, the 52-year-old white washer understood what it meant to work hard to achieve one’s goals. He and great grandmother Martha had 11 children, 10 of whom survived to adulthood. Most of their offspring worked in the family business, including my grandfather Carl James Greenbury Murphy who succeeded his father as publisher (1922-1967).
Initially the paper was supported strictly by readers, although some estimated that an overwhelming majority of African Americans (98 percent) could not read. However, the subscriber base grew, and the one-pager expanded to 13 editions printed on the AFRO’s own printing presses operated by highly skilled union workers. In turn, advertisers viewed the AFRO as one of the best ways to market their goods and services to an ever-growing, ever-influential African-American population.
Readers trusted (and still trust) the AFRO and other Black publications not only to print the truth but to be the prime source of accurate, affirming news for and about our diverse communities. Stories about weddings, funerals, graduations, church, sporting and social events filled the pages of the AFRO, along with the current “news” of the day—including the seemingly never-ending fight for quality jobs, equal pay, housing, education, health care, safety and public accommodations. And, then there was the highly popular AFRO Cooking School, which drew thousands to the Fifth Regiment Armory in Baltimore every year as many competed for new appliances and other prizes awarded for their culinary skills. Today, we have a weekly on-line cooking show hosted by our Jackson State intern Aria Brent. We’ve also published a 130th anniversary cookbook that includes some of those old recipes from our Cooking School days. Other signature AFRO programs included AFRO Clean Block (one of the oldest on-going environmental programs in the country) and Mrs. Santa. Both are still in existence.
Since 1892, hundreds of dedicated men and women have worked tirelessly to realize the vision of the founder. But we must admit to great grandfather Murphy that we haven’t always “stayed out of politics.” Since the early 1900’s, we have supported our choices for elected office including our most recent endorsement of the young, energetic, highly qualified democratic nominee for governor, Wes Moore, as well as Brooke Lierman for Comptroller and Anthony Brown for Attorney General (the AFRO got it right!). Today, we are still championing social and political change (including voting rights), as we crusade for equal opportunity and access for all and chronicle the joys and sorrows of our community.
In this age of social media and news on demand, we have exceeded great grandfather’s desire for the AFRO to become a daily newspaper. We are constantly posting to AFRO.com, to Meta (650,000 plus followers), and to Instagram and Twitter (12,000 plus followers on each platform). We’ve even ventured into TikTok! And, with the help of AFRO Charities, Inc., we are working hard to preserve our expansive archives containing more than 3 million photographs, so that more people can know about our rich history and legacy.
The AFRO is the oldest family-owned Black newspaper in the United States and the oldest Black-owned business in Maryland. This year we received several awards from the MDDC Press Association, as well as the National Newspaper Publishers Association’s coveted John B. Russwurm trophy for journalistic excellence (including best website). And on Saturday, August 13 (go to afro.com for tickets), we will be joined by hundreds of well-wishers including elected officials, advertisers, community leaders, AFRO team members, AFRO board members and several descendants of John and Martha Murphy for our 130th anniversary gala featuring Tommy Davidson, the Absolute Music Band featuring Temika Moore and DJ Kid Capri.
We also are grateful for our outstanding team of dedicated young (and not so young) journalists, graphic designers, sales specialists, social media and technology gurus, finance professionals, board members, industry partners and media executives past and present including former AFRO executive editor, Moses Newson, 95, who plans to attend Saturday’s gala.
A special thanks to our gala sponsors: AARP, Johns Hopkins University, BGE, The Baltimore Urban League, Murphy, Falcon Law, TEDCO, George Mason Mortgage/United Bank, BWI-Thurgood Marshall Airport, Bank of America, Truist Bank, March Funeral Homes, Comcast, PNC Bank; our event planner CarVerPR; and everyone who has extended congratulations to us either in the 130th souvenir journal or in this wonderful special edition.
We also are grateful to our readers and viewers! It’s because of you that we have been able to tell our stories for more than a century. Thanks to our editorial team, led by the Rev. Dorothy Boulware and Alexis Taylor; our advertising team, led by Lenora Howze; our production team, led by Denise Dorsey; our finance team, led by Bonnie Deanes; our social media and tech teams, led by Kevin and Dana Peck and ALL of our super talented AFRO team members.
We hope you enjoy reading this special anniversary edition, as much as we enjoyed looking back over our storied history. Indeed, “A newspaper succeeds because its management believes in itself, in God and in the present generation.”
Here’s to another 130 plus!
Frances Murphy (Toni) Draper, CEO and Publisher
View photos and videos from the AFRO 130th Gala here!
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