The AFRO headquarters on N. Eutaw Street in Baltimore. The business was located there from about 1911 - 1993. Courtesy of the AFRO American Newspapers Archives.
BY SAVANNAH WOOD
Savannah Wood is the Executive Director of Afro Charities, Inc. and 5th generation of the AFRO American Newspaper family.
On August 13, 2022, the AFRO American Newspapers celebrates its 130th birthday. Its first issue — a four-page tabloid — was published in Baltimore, Maryland in 1892. After just a few years, the business was struggling to stay afloat, and by 1897, the paper’s name and printing press went up for auction. John H. Murphy, Sr., a publisher and print foreman in his own right, decided to buy both the name and press with money borrowed from his wife, Martha Howard Murphy.
The AFRO printshop, in 1921. Courtesy of the AFRO American Newspapers Archives.
Five generations later, John and Martha’s descendants still own and operate the AFRO American Newspapers, fondly known as The AFRO. It is the oldest Black business in Maryland, and the third oldest in the country.
Courtesy of the AFRO American Newspapers Archives.
During its 130 years in operation, The AFRO has become a beacon for Black Americans across the eastern seaboard who seek a fuller accounting of our lives. The AFRO currently publishes a weekly print edition in both Baltimore and DC and shares breaking stories on its social media platforms and afro.com. At the height of its physical circulation, the paper also had Richmond, Philadelphia, Newark and national editions.
Curtis Moore, Philadelphia newsboy. Date unknown. Courtesy of the AFRO American Newspapers Archives.
In the tradition of the Black press, The AFRO continues to serve as an incubator for emergent young talent, and an advocate for Black people's social, political and economic rights. Over the years, the business employed hundreds, if not thousands of paper carriers, or “newsies,” including the late congressman Elijah Cummings, and his predecessor (and successor) Kweisi Mfume. Romare Bearden briefly worked as a political cartoonist for The AFRO, followed by Thomas Stockett, who illustrated his wit and artistic prowess in The AFRO’s editorial pages for 40 years before his death in 2007. Bettye Murphy, granddaughter of John and Martha, became the first woman war correspondent with her World War II reporting from London. Sam Lacy, a renowned sports writer who worked for The AFRO until he was 94 years old, most notably covered Jackie Robinson integrating major league baseball, all while he was barred from the press pit, which was still segregated.
Cartoon by Thomas Stockett. Courtesy of the AFRO American Newspapers Archives.
AFRO Clean Block Campaign. Date Unknown. Courtesy of the AFRO American Newspapers Archives.
The AFRO has always been involved in community affairs. In 1934, Frances L. Murphy I, daughter of John and Martha, instituted AFRO Clean Block, a neighborhood cleanup initiative that reached thousands of youth each summer, instilling pride in our neighborhoods. In 1963, the AFRO board of directors founded Afro Charities, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, to administer both AFRO Clean Block and Mrs. Santa, the AFRO’s annual gift drive.
Xaviera Simmons, Sundown (Number Fifty), 2022. Part of a new body of work commissioned by Afro Charities and KADIST, in response to the AFRO Archives. Image courtesy the artist and David Castillo Gallery.
Within the last three years, Afro Charities has expanded its mission to include the preservation of the AFRO American Newspapers’ extensive archives, and the creation of programming inspired by the same. Since 2019 we’ve launched biannual artist commissions, an annual high school journalism fellowship and a conversation series inspired by the collection.
The AFRO Archives are a treasure trove of world history told from Black perspectives. They include approximately 3 million photographs, thousands of letters, back issues of The AFRO’s 13 editions, personal audio recordings between publisher Carl Murphy and Thurgood Marshall, and collected ephemera from a century’s worth of social, professional and political events. Afro Charities is currently fundraising for the development of a permanent home and research center for the collection, and planning for the digitization of all 3 million images.
AFRO American Newspaper front page from November 30, 1923. Courtesy of the AFRO American Newspapers Archives.
Afro Charities has partnered with Philadelphia Printworks to create this capsule collection in honor of The AFRO’s impact and longevity. The designs are inspired by an early masthead that featured two intersecting globe hemispheres depicting Africa and the Americas. We hope that when you wear your Afro Charities x PPW gear, you feel proud of all we’ve accomplished so far, and fortified for the journey to come.