We’re Still Here

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Dr. Frances “Toni” Murphy Draper, AFRO CEO and Publisher (Courtesy Photo)

Last summer, the entire AFRO team worked together to design a year-long series of special editions under the banner, “We’re Still Here.” We brainstormed a variety of topics and decided that each month, in lieu of our regular print edition, we would produce an entire edition around a single topic– topics ranging from Black Firsts to Building Black Wealth. These special editions will also include stories and pictures from our extensive archives. One AFRO team member was so inspired by the topics selected that she wrote a poem that was turned into a powerful, quick-moving video (go to afro.com to see the video).  This first special edition of 2021 focuses on community activists, in honor of the life and legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  

I grew up in a family of community activists. People who weren’t afraid to speak truth to power. People who taught us that if we didn’t speak up and speak out against injustices, we were as guilty as those who perpetrated those injustices. People who understood that silence in the face of wrong could be interpreted as complicity. People who put their lives on the line for what they believed in.  People who understood that our responsibility was to serve and not be served. It is against this backdrop, that I learned to really appreciate how challenging it was and still is to advocate, to demonstrate, to agitate for that which is right. My grandfather, Carl Murphy, was what some may call the “activist” in chief.  He used the pages of the AFRO to actualize the words of his father, AFRO founder John H. Murphy Sr., who wrote: “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.” Carl Murphy was bold and bodacious.  He stood by his convictions, often summoning other community leaders to his office to convince them to join his latest cause.  

For example, in 1942, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, asked the U.S. Justice Department to investigate the AFRO for sedition. Sedition is a word that’s been used a lot lately, especially in light of the events that transpired at the Capitol on Jan. 6. The dictionary defines sedition as “conduct or speech inciting people to rebel against the authority of a state or monarch.” So why did Mr. Hoover want the AFRO investigated. Because he considered our coverage of World War II to be unpatriotic and incendiary. Because we relentlessly covered racial unrest in the United States and abroad. Because we didn’t cow tow to his desire that we go along to get along. Because we had the audacity, or as my grandfather Carl Murphy would say, the unmitigated gall to call people out – including the government—for their mistreatment of Blacks at home and overseas. Hoover seemed incensed that the AFRO and other African-American publications continued to publish reports of discrimination and mistreatment of Blacks, week after week. For example, a June 1943 AFRO included front page stories about race riots in Detroit and Texas, as well as the Nazi disdain for Black soldiers in Europe.   This coverage, key to the AFRO’s “Double V” campaign, was initiated by the Pittsburgh Courier and picked up by the Chicago Defender. For months, the AFRO displayed a flag and a fist in its masthead.  Although the Justice Department publicly declined to prosecute the AFRO for sedition, it was well known that Hoover constantly urged the FBI to investigate the AFRO and other Black publications. Yet, that did not deter us. We continued to publish, and we continued to tell the stories, and eventually published a book entitled “This is Our War.”  These war stories compiled by the AFRO’s seven  war correspondents – including Ollie Stewart  who covered the war from a variety of places including North Africa, Sicily and Rome;  Art Carter, who reported on the Tuskegee airmen from Italy; Max Johnson who wrote about the invasion of Southern France in 1944; Vincent Tubbs and Francis Yancey who were firsthand witnesses to General Douglas Mac Arthur’s Southwest Pacific Campaigns in 1943 and 1944 and Carl Murphy’s oldest daughter,  Elizabeth (Bettye) Murphy Phillips who served and wrote from London. Although she became ill and could not stay in London, she wrote about Black soldiers and their journeys from her hospital bed. These war correspondents, like so many AFRO reporters then and now, were activists in the true sense who risked their lives to get out the truth, regardless of the consequences. Because of them and so many others we write about in this edition, we’re still here! 

Special thanks to our managing editor, the Rev. Dorothy Boulware; guest editor, Erricka Bridgeford; news editor, Jessica Dortch; DC editor, Micha Green; AFRO senior reporter, Sean Yoes; archivist, Savannah Wood; all contributing writers, our production, advertising, business,  circulation, digital and technology team members for your hard work and a job well done.  Of course, we are still constantly posting current news on afro.com and on our social media platforms.  #werestillhere

Dr. Frances “Toni” Murphy Draper
AFRO CEO and Publisher