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Several black newspapers operated in Lower Roxbury

Several black newspapers operated in Lower Roxbury

Back when the city’s dailies were clustered along Newspaper Row in the heart of downtown, another Newspaper Row existed in Lower Roxbury, where at least five weeklies serving the black community were published.

In the 1940s and 1950s, Lower Roxbury was a commercial hub, with a bevy of black-owned businesses along Tremont Street and its side streets, recalls Rev. Michael Haynes, retired pastor of Twelfth Street Baptist Church, who grew up in the neighborhood. Newspapers were among those enterprises.

The best known was the Guardian, which William Monroe Trotter founded in 1901 and which left an imprint on the nation, instigating in its early years the establishment of the NAACP. Starting in 1944, the Guardian’s office was at 977 Tremont.

A couple blocks away, the Chronicle, launched in 1915, was in those years published at 794 Tremont. The Chronicle was more locally focused than the Guardian and drew much of its leadership from the Caribbean, particularly Jamaica.

By the 1950s, the Guardian and Chronicle were running out of steam. Trotter had died in 1934, and his paper later lapsed into irregular publication. Both papers expired by 1960, though the dates of their final issues remain uncertain.

Others papers emerged to try to fill the void as the Guardian and Chronicle were limping along. In late 1953, Jet magazine announced the arrival of the Boston Graphic, a pictorial weekly printed on glossy paper.

The Graphic’s first editor was Benjamin Dames, who earlier that year had been named news director of WVOM radio station in Brookline. Dames was the first African American to hold such a position in the Boston area. He appeared to have held both jobs at the same time for a period. The paper’s business manager was Norman Thomas, a photoengraver.

The next year, Edna Louis Harrison succeeded Dames as the Graphic’s editor. Coming from a newspaper family, her brother, William E. Harrison, worked for the Chronicle. In 1964, she became the New England representative for Ebony and Jet.

The Graphic entered a period of stability when Muriel B. Knight took over as editor in 1957 and she remained in the top job for five years. She later became a public information specialist for the Action for Boston Community Development and president of the New England Woman’s Press Association.

The Graphic appears to have ceased publishing about 1962.

Haynes remembers two other black weeklies based in Lower Roxbury, the Boston Sun and Boston Times. The Sun was published by Royal Bolling Sr., who was later elected to the state Legislature and built a political dynasty, with son Royal Jr. also serving in the Legislature and son Bruce on the City Council.

Freedom House files archived at Northeastern University include Sun clippings from 1962 and 1963. One contributor was Lenny Widdiss, who had previously written for the Washington Afro-American in D.C. Helen M. Phillips, an educator, was columnist for the Sun as she had been for the Graphic, according to Who’s Who Among African Americans.

The Times, Haynes recalls, was published by a man whose last name was Bell.

Two other papers served Roxbury during the era, though the locations of their offices and the nature of their ownership is unclear.

The Roxbury Citizen was published at least from 1953 to 1959, based on news clippings in the Freedom House files. Another paper called variously the Roxbury City News or Boston-Roxbury City News appeared at least from 1962 to 1965, a period when Knight was its editor, following the demise of the Graphic.

By the mid-1960s, the local newspaper industry was undergoing changes. In 1958, the Boston Globe abandoned Newspaper Row on Washington Street for its current headquarters in Dorchester. About the same time the Boston Herald relocated to the South End.

The emergence of network news programs and the consolidation of the city’s dailies greatly reduced their numbers. Today’s Herald, for instance, is the successor of more than seven papers.

The onetime Newspaper Row along Tremont Street experienced a similar but more severe dwindling in the number of black weeklies, until there were none. Into that vacuum stepped the Bay State Banner in 1965.