Ralph D. (Matty) Matthews Sr., 74, a retired editor and reporter with the Afro-American newspaper chain, died of pneumonia Wednesday at his home in Washington. He had been in ill health for several years.

Mr. Matthews began his newspaper career in 1924 as a reporter on the Baltimore Afro-American. He retired in 1968 as an associate editor of the Washington Afro-American, of which he had been editor for 15 years, beginning in 1935. His assignments over the years included politics, civil rights, the coronation of King George VI of Britain in 1936, and the Korean conflict, which he covered for the National Newspaper Publishers Association.

Mr. Matthews was editor of the Washington Afro-American from 1935 to 1947, when he became editor of the Newmark, N.J., Afro-American. In 1951, he moved back to the Washington newspaper as its editor for another three years.

He then left the Afro-American newspapers, for which he had become a kind of trouble-shooter, to spend five years as editor of the Cleveland Call and Post. He then rejoined the Afro-American organization and became editor of its paper in Philadelphia.

Following a stroke he suffered in 1964, he returned to the Washington Afro-American as an associate editor until his retirement.

For 16 years Mr. Matthews ran the Afro-American sponsored "New Faces Guild," a variety show for the benefit of Children's Hospital and other charities. He also was a founding member of the Capital Press Club. He received the Wendell L. Willkie public leadership award for his national political reporting.

Last year, Mr. Matthews was honored by the National Newspaper Publishers Association. The citation presented to him said: "In the struggle made by the black press, some people have attained the stature of greatness through their ability to establish great newspapers and watch them make their mark in history as fighters for the black cause.

"And then there are others who have attained greatness simply by the way they have been able to write for those newspapers in that fight.

"But once in a while there comes along a man who can do both - fight and write. Ralph Matthews was such a man."

Mr. Matthews was born in Harford County, Md. He grew up in Baltimore and attended Morgan State College there and the Columbia University School of Journalism in New York.

His survivors include his wife, Inez D., of the home; a son, Ralph Jr., of Baltimore; a stepson, John M. Braxton, of West Bedford, Mass.; two stepdaughters, Phyllis Braxton, of the home, and Shirley A. Fonseca, of West Bedford; a sister, Nellie M. Tartar, of Baltimore, and three grandchildren.