Remember when … Milwaukee Star blazed a trail for Black weeklies in early 1960s

Written by MCJStaff   // August 1, 2014   // 0 Comments

“Those that tell, don’t know. And those that know, won’t tell…” Ossie Davis, “Do the Right Thing” (1989)
By Richard G. Carter
   There was a time when Black weekly newspapers were rare in this city. In the post-war 1940s, the weekly Milwaukee Globe — published by my late father Sanford Carter, Vincent Bevenue, Lawrence Saunders and John Williams — was one of the first.
   Located on the south side of W. Walnut St. near N. Ninth, the Globe’s community leaders carried the ball. With the Chicago Bee — hawked up and down Walnut by Dan Travis, known as ”The Bee Man” — they were the only Black papers readily available.
   In the late ’50s, the Milwaukee Recorder and Milwaukee Gazette briefly appeared. In 1957, the iconic Mattiebelle Woods — who published the short-lived weekly Recorder — gave me my first newspaper job as I majored in journalism at Marquette University.
   The Milwaukee Star, at 2334 N. Third St., burst on the scene in the early 1960s. Recognizing the need for an enduring, first-rate Black weekly, enterprising publisher Kenneth C. Coulter wrested control of the paper from Cinco Forte and began assembling a talented staff that was to break new journalistic ground for the next two years.
   In April 1962, while working full-time at the U.S. Post office despite my journalism degree, I was hired by Coulter as associate editor-sports editor — joining co-editors Jay Anderson and Walter Jones, and photographer William Stitt This experienced, core group aggressively covered the city’s growing Black community with breaking news, in-depth local sports, man-on-the street interview-photos and a wildly popular tavern page.
   In 1963, I quit the Post Office and we added Reuben Harpole, (advertising); George F. Sanders (art director); Les Harris (newsboy manager); Roger Belton (circulation); Rev. Kenneth Bowen (church editor); Sally Nash (varitypist); Mattibelle Woods (columnist); Marilyn Moreheuser (reporter); Welton Brady (artist); Cathy Nickel (production); Bert Mallory (classified); Ken Bedford (darkroom), and  and Reginald McGhee (photography).
   In 1963 and 1964 — touted as “The Voice of the Negro in Wisconsin” — The Star really made its mark. With the “Miss Milwaukee Star” contest; its support of the Northside Voters Voice; expanding the tavern section to four full pages of photos and 4-inch-square ads; coverage of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, and our historic, in-person, downtown interview of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., we changed the local Black newspaper scene. And things would never be the same.
   Our small staff collaborated on reporting, writing, photography, graphics and selling ads. My time included writing news stories, covering Sunday morning softball games of the fun-filled Tavern League at Lapham Park, visiting many neighborhood taverns to sell the small ads for a mere $8 — and taking accompanying photos on busy weekend nights.
   Some nights after work, Anderson, Sanders and I relaxed by taking-in movies at the Century theater two doors away. There, we often discussed our coverage and layout plans.
   The paper was published on Saturday, which routinely meant working all day and night Friday and into Saturday morning to meet the deadline. Since The Star had no printing facilities, Coulter, and selected staff members loaded our finished product into a car for the weekly trip to Port Washington, where the paper was printed by a small, White-owned company.
   The high points of those early years was coverage of the Nov. 22, 1963, murder of President Kennedy, and our Jan. 28, 1964 staff interview of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the Schroeder Hotel, at N. Fifth St. and W. Wisconsin Ave.
   We got the JFK news in a phone call from Mildred Harpole — Reuben’s wife — who’d seen a television bulletin. We had no TV and were in shock. We looked at each other, but nobody spoke. Finally, I said “He’s probably not hurt bad.” How very, very wrong I was.
   We ran a full front-page flattering photo of the martyred president in our next issue — framed by a thick, black border — with an in-depth report inside. Many readers called, knowing JFK was set to enact the civil rights legislation that Lyndon B. Johnson later signed into law.
   Two months later, we got word that Dr. King would be in town to address a fund-raising rally for his Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Coulter, Anderson, Moreheuser and myself met his plane at Mitchell Field, and I took photos of him with Black police detectives Dewey Russ and Leroy Jones, who provided security for his visit.
   After traveling in separate cars to the Schroeder, we crowded onto a couch in a VIP suite — with Dr. King and I seated side-by-side. As he held a copy of The Star, these moments were captured in a historic photo by Stitt that appeared prominently in our paper, and others, over the years. Sadly, everyone else in the photo has passed away.
   In November 1967, as a reporter for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, I was fortunate to interview Dr. King a second time at downtown hotel. To my surprise, he remembered me.
   “I know you, don’t I? Milwaukee a few years ago, wasn’t it?” And I recall saying, “Yes, that’s right. An interview with a Black paper — The Milwaukee Star.”
   That was the essence of my Milwaukee Star — a pioneering, memorable Black weekly newspaper whose mantel has been successfully picked up by the Community Journal. Those were the days, my friends. We thought they’d never end.
Milwaukee native Richard G. Carter is a freelance columnist


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