The Baltimore Afro-American celebrated its 120th anniversary this month, rolling out a huge edition that chronicles its years in print. 

This image from the exhibition "Growing Up AFRO: Snapshots of Black Childhood from the Afro-American Newspapers," shows youths at the Eastside Community Center preparing to distribute cheer during the 1948 Christmas season in Baltimore. The exhibition runs through Dec. 30 at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum. (Reginald F. Lewis Museum)

The commemorative edition, which hit newsstands Aug. 18, is 128 pages in eight sections. Each section represents a different category of The AFRO’s news coverage from civil rights to the church.

“It is interesting to see how the various aspects of this community have involved over these 120 years,” Oliver said.

The AFRO was founded on August 13, 1892 by John Henry Murphy Sr., a former slave. Murphy merged his church’s publication, The Sunday School Helper, with two other Baltimore church papers: St. James Episocopal Church’s The Ledger and Sharon Baptist Church’s Afro-American.

In that time, the family-owned weekly pushed Baltimore’s police and fire departments to hire African Americans, launched it’s “Clean Block” campaign, fought against the Southern Railroad’s Jim Crow cars and called for equal pay for black teachers in Maryland.

In addition to publishing its giant commemorative issue, The AFRO is celebrating the milestone with a host of other activities. In June, the AFRO staff invited members of local organizations to a dinner at Carolina’s Kitchen in Hyattsville. In July, they held a Paperboy & Papergirl Breakfast at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of African American Heritage and Culture.  

“Over the years, one of our main vehicles to get the paper to the readership has been through paper boys and paper girls. It is a part of the culture in Baltimore and Washington. Folks that are now adults were exposed to their first business transactions by being paperboys and papergirls,” Oliver said.

The paperboys and girls would yell “Eddie-O-AFRO!” and it was “one of the main ways people would know the paper was on the street. Those days are gone, but it was part of the culture,” Oliver said.

Some of the AFRO’s former paperboys include former Maryland legislator Kweisi Mfume (D), Maryland Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown (D) and Reginald Lewis, the first African American to build a billion dollar company.

“Reginald Lewis’ mother will tell you that he had a sizable paper route on the East side of Baltimore, and his mother would take over when he was at camp,” Oliver said.

The AFRO is trying to keep up with the Web-crazy times, just like every other publication, experimenting with social media and e-blasts, but Oliver says that moving forward, the main focus of the Baltimore Afro-American will still be the black community.

“It’s the depth and magnitude of the extreme interest that our community has in learning about itself. People are interested in their history and black history,” Oliver said.


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