It’s a small notation, but this week the volume changed on the front of the Free Press. It now says Volume 50. No. 1.
It doesn’t seem like it’s been that long, but this week begins the 50th year of the Free Press. Everyone here has aged, except Sammy Soul who has been standing on the same corner spitting out platitudes since the summer of August of 1969.
As we lead up to our gala 50th year celebration next year, we will be reflecting on 50 years of advocacy that have been reflected in our pages.
The battles we have fought over the last 50 years seem minuscule now, but they were major when they happened. When the Monroe Police arrested black youth who had steel Afro combs in their hair and charged them with carrying concealed weapons we front paged this issue for months. Everyone in city hall called the paper racist and blasted us for accusing the cops of profiling blacks. They stopped the practice while showering me every derogatory term possible.
When we criticized the local police for brutality, someone in the department decided to set me up on drug charges. They planned to use a snitch to put marijuana seeds in my car and then have Metro Narcotics to find the seeds and bust me for dealing drugs. The snitch they used told me about the plan and didn’t do it. The same day, I was surrounded by Metro officers who pointed weapons in my face and accused me of possessing drugs and selling them out of my car. Oops the seeds weren’t there. The plan failed.
We were definitely called racists when we led the black community in a boycott of all white businesses in the city that refused to hire blacks. We waited until Christmas and then launched a “Black Christmas” campaign urging blacks not to shop at any store in Monroe that did not have black employees up front where we could see them.
Mayor W.L. Howard called me to his office in 1970 and offered me a one-way ticket out of Monroe. We were leading protests, and marches in Monroe and writing about them in what he called my “racist fly sheet.” He had me arrested and released 17 times during his administration, then dismissed the charges to avoid the publicity. My name is scribbled on the wall in Cell C-7 in the old city jail.
Monroe Mayor Bob Powell, slammed the door in my face and told me and my “yellow rag sheet” to go to hell. He did that after we challenged the fact that he chained smoke cigarettes at city council meetings and refused to pave streets in the black community as promised.
To his credit, Powell stopped smoking in the meetings and passed a tax to pave all streets in the city. Today, every street in Monroe is paved.
We were not the favorite of Mayor Ralph Troy who was extremely irritated because we blasted his firing of Rev. John Russell as assistant mayor. We publicized Rev. Russell’s claim that Troy wanted a “Super Nigger” as his assistant. He had some ugly words for us because we were the only ones to publish Russell’s claim or Troy’s replacement for Russell, Ralph Hall, who announced to the city that he didn’t mind being Troy’s “Super Nigger.”
Mayor Abe Pierce wasn’t too happy that we criticized him for being too laid back. Neither was Mayor Melvin Rambin happy that he was characterized as the “Porchlight” mayor of North Monroe. However, both men received criticism well and responded with respect.
Mayor Jamie Mayo has spent most of his 17 years in office blaming the Free Press for spreading racism when we challenged his support of police officers who murdered William Henderson or his failure to treat low paid workers with respect as promised. Once he had me and my sons Robert and Kita arrested at city hall, but like Howard, dropped all charges a week later. That made arrest number 18 – No conviction.
Mayo really “nutted up” this year when we published the fact that he gave the key to city to Louis Farrakhan. He denied that it happened and his aide Rod Washington told the media that it didn’t happen as well. He said I was a liar, cheat, and a sneak. Then we produced 17 photos and audio tapes to back up our claim. – It was hilarious!
Over the course of these 50 years, the hundreds of battles we have fought have faded into history but they were necessary at the time.
We have championed a lot of causes, made a ton of enemies, but helped thousands.
As we begin, the 50th year, we look forward to continuing the fight. In the words of the late Shirley Chisholm, we remain “Boss, Black and Unbought.”