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La. Weekly reaches milestone, celebrates 90th anniversary

21st September 2015   ·   0 Comments

This week The Louisiana Weekly, one of the longest-running and most widely read publications owned and operated by people of color in the Deep South, celebrates its 90th year of existence.

For nine decades, The Louisiana Weekly has fulfilled its mission as a tool for the enlightenment and empowerment of people of color in the U.S. and around the world. Migrations of south Louisianians to the North and West, displacement by Hurricane Katrina and increased use by communities of color of the Internet have dramatically increased the publication’s national readership. The Louisiana Weekly also has a global clientele, with subscribers as far away as London, Japan and South Africa.

But despite the publication’s growth and evolution, The Louisiana Weekly remains true to its historic mission as an advocate for justice, democracy and equal protection under the law.

Founded by Black businessmen Orlando Capitola Ward Taylor and Constant C. Dejoie Sr. in 1925, The Weekly began during an era of widespread lynchings, domestic terrorism, rigid segregation and blatant racial antipathy. With very few media organizations giving a voice to the oppressed Black masses in the Deep South, The Louisiana Weekly has held to its historic mission of advocating for justice, civil rights, constitutional rights and voting rights of people of color and other disenfranchised groups.

O.C.W. Taylor was a former public school teacher in New Orleans and C.C. Dejoie was president of the Unity Industrial Life Insurance Company when The Weekly was established. Its original headquarters were located at 303 Pythan Temple Building. Dejoie used his business, networking and organizational skills to kickstart the publication, recruiting insurance agents to sell newspaper subscriptions and issues of the publication, and utilizing their clients and associates in the community to gather information and issues of importance to the Black community.

The first two issues of the newspaper were printed under the original name of the publication, The New Orleans Herald. The inaugural issue, published on September 19, 1925, chronicled the life of educator and singer Professor John Wesley Work.

The October 10 issue was the first that ran under the name The Louisiana Weekly. The initial cost for an annual subscription rate of $2. Six-month, one-month and single-issue rates were available at $1.25, 20 cents, and five cents, respectively.

The publication’s affordable rates, along with its commitment to chronicling the lives of Black people and their ongoing struggle for full citizenship, voting rights, civil rights, justice and equal protection under the law, led to exponential growth and success. By October 17, 1925, The Weekly had amassed 4,500 subscribers, which its founders called a “record in Negro Journalism.”

On The Louisiana Weekly’s pages, which are currently being stored and preserved for future generations by the Amistad Research Center, one can find the history and strivings of people of African descent in the Western hemisphere, United States and southern Louisiana. Since its founding in 1925, The Louisiana Weekly has covered every major movement for justice, freedom and inclusion in Black America from the integration of the U.S. Armed Forces, Montgomery Bus Boycott, Historic Civil Rights Movement, March on Washington, Black Power Movement and the Million Man March. It has also featured the writings of visionary leaders like W.E.B. DuBois, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr., Malcolm X, and chronicled important stories like Hurricane Katrina, the migration of southern Blacks to other parts of the U.S., the birth of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in New Orleans, the murder of Emmett Till, Brown v. The Board of Education, the assassinations of Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr., the freedom struggle in South Africa, the anti-apartheid movement in the U.S., the burning of Black churches across the South in the 1990s, the election of South African President Nelson Mandela, the bombing of the World Trade Center, and the election and re-election of President Barack Obama.

The Louisiana Weekly also played a more intimate role in the lives of its mostly Black readership, publishing stories about the births, graduations, accomplishments, and weddings that took place in Black New Orleans but were routinely ignored for much of the 20th century by mainstream media.

In The Louisiana Weekly, readers found stories about the struggles of Black people in rural parts of the state of Louisiana, local efforts to integrate Woolworth’s and McCrory’s department stores on Canal Street and articles about important civil rights heroes like the Rev. Skip Alexander, the Rev. A.L. Davis, Ruby Bridges, Oretha Castle Haley, Freedom Rider Jerome Smith and the Rev. Avery C. Alexander.

As the leading Black newspaper in what has often been called “the most African city in America,” The Louisiana Weekly has taken seriously its responsibility to chronicle the struggle, accomplishments, strivings, tenacity, creativity and ingenuity of Black America.

O.C.W. Taylor left the publication in August 1927.

Among the gifted journalists who have left an indelible mark on The Louisiana Weekly was Joseph “Scoop” Jones, whose passion for justice fueled his service to the publication as an acclaimed reporter, columnist and photographer.

Because of its strategic locale and community-based roots. The Louisiana Weekly has also been able to give the nation and the world a bird’s eye view of the city’s illustrious musical heritage. It has written extensively about the history of Congo Square, a meeting place for enslaved Africans where jazz is believed to have been born and the history of Faubourg Tremé, one of the nation’s oldest Black neighborhoods. Musical greats and legends Louis Armstrong, Mahalia Jackson, Buddy Bolden, Professor Longhair, Tuba Fats, Ernie K. Doe, Lionel Ferbos and Fats Domino can often be found in The Louisiana Weekly.

After C.C. Dejoie Sr. passed away in 1970, his eldest son, C.C. Dejoie Jr., was elected to serve as The Louisiana Weekly’s publisher. A position he held until his death in the 1990s.

Henry B. Dejoie Sr., the youngest of C.C. Dejoie Sr.’s three children, then took over the running of the publication. From the time he was old enough to walk, he worked in the family business, learning it from the bottom up. While still young, he distributed the publication and worked in the circulation department. Henry Sr. passed away at the age of 82 on December 31, 2007 in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania.

After decades of operation in downtown New Orleans, The Louisiana Weekly pulled up its stakes and relocated to its current Gentilly location in 2001. When severe levee breaks flooded 80 percent of New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the paper published online beginning in September 2005 in order to continue to disseminate information about New Orleans and its residents who had been displaced throughout the U.S. The Louisiana Weekly’s owners and staff were also displaced by the Great Flood. With then Executive Editor Renette Dejoie-Hall operating out of Houston, Texas, the paper began publishing hard copies again in October. The Weekly’s location did not receive any damage from flood waters and was able to re-open in July 2006 with a much reduced staff. The Louisiana Weekly continues to publish in its regular format and provide a voice to African Americans in Louisiana, as well as throughout the United States and beyond.
Louisiana Weekly editor Edmund W. Lewis joined the staff of The Louisiana Weekly in 1996. Over the course of his tenure at the publication he has been awarded three A. Philip Randolph Messenger Awards for Editorial Writing from the National Newspaper Publishers Association and a Community Builder Award from Xavier University’s African -American Male Collaborative.

As honored as he was to receive those awards, Lewis said the best thing about working at The Weekly has been the people he rubbed shoulders with daily at the publication and the people he met in the community.

“There were a number of elders at the paper when I came on board, including two World War II veterans — Henry Dejoie Sr. and George “Tex” Stephens,” he said. “It was amazing to come to work every day and hear firsthand stories about what Black soldiers experienced during World War II and beyond.

“It has also been an amazing experience to meet people like Dr. John Henrik Clarke, the Rev. Avery C. Alexander, South African guitarist/vocalist Jonathan Butler, legendary Grambling State football coach Eddie Robinson and Black Enterprise publisher Earl Graves as well as many of the local freedom fighters and organizers who have been fighting the good fight and working daily to end injustice and inequity in New Orleans and beyond. It has truly been an incredible experience.”

Lewis said it is also gratifying to meet everyday people from across New Orleans who read The Louisiana Weekly and to receive letters from readers across the nation and around the world who show their support for the publication and its historic mission.

“In this age of claims of post-racial politics and Tea Party tactics, we still see efforts to turn back the clock every day,” Renette Dejoie Hall, who now serves as publisher, said recently. “We see efforts by some groups to weaken the effects of Brown v. The Board of Education, the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act. We also see incidents like those involving Michael Brown in Ferguson, La., Ezell Ford in Los Angeles, Trayvon Martin in Florida and Wendell Allen, Justin Sipp, Adolph Grimes III, Henry Glover, Ronald Madison and James Brissette in New Orleans.

“As long as we see racial injustice, economic exploitation, public corruption, unconstitutional policing and other practices and policies that violate the human and constitutional rights of men, women and children. we will continue to fight the good fight.”

This article originally published in the September 21, 2015 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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