We remain committed after 41 years

We remain committed  after 41 years
September 03
00:00 2015

From the desk of Ernie Pitt

In the spring of 1974, what had been no more than a dream for me, began to materialize. As I approached graduation from the School of Journalism at UNC-Chapel Hill, it was like D-Day. My thoughts: Either you’re going to do it or you’re not. I decided to take a job with The News and Record in Greensboro and scout out Winston-Salem as the place to sow some seeds.

Knowing absolutely nothing about Winston-Salem except that it was the fourth largest city in North Carolina without a Black newspaper. I took the first exit off of Business 40 not wanting to miss the city altogether. I exited at the WSSU campus. I drove onto campus by mistake and turned into the parking lot in front of the Alumni Building. I went in and met the first person in the city to discuss my master plan. Her name was Dr. Greene, the alumni chairwoman. She was perhaps the one who confirmed my desire to start a newspaper here. She was very encouraging where others had laughed and scoffed at my idea.

On my days off I would come to Winston and see who would help me get my penniless idea going. Here again, I found one individual who saw the vision which God had given me. This man’s name was Frank Murrell. Mr. Murrell was an entrepreneur with only a third grade education but he was a man of God and could see the idea of what a black-owned newspaper could do in a city as racially segregated as Winston-Salem, whose black population at the time was just under 50 percent – hardly a minority.

Later on I discovered that there had been another black newspaper here in the ’40s owned by my other mentor, Mr. Carl Russell, Sr. owner along with his wife, of Russell Funeral Home. Between the two they kept me focused on my dream. Mr. Russell was almost elected mayor of Winston-Salem by write-in ballot had not the white establishment not thrown in another black candidate to split the black vote. Sound familiar?

Mr. Russell knew the power of the press. He also learned that that power combined with advocacy could be dangerous to your freedom. I came to learn that as well.

I was dating Elaine at the time who was working on her doctorate in Clinical Psychology at UNC-Chapel Hill, and visiting on weekends, helping to sell newspapers and typeset copy. She became a steel beam of support to me. We were married 4 years later. She and I sold newspapers; I wrote stories (the first being one about a man who sued his next door neighbor because her rooster crowed too early and too loud). That was the last story for the first issue written on a brown paper bag and published Thursday, Sept. 5, 1974.

There were many more stories involving issues that would only be told by The Chronicle, and many excellent editors and journalists who would help me tell them: Like the case of Sheila McKellar who was arrested, taken to the magistrate’s office and when she left that office she was immediately pronounced dead. The many other stories like the castration of a black man in the Washington Park area that not for The Chronicle would never have seen the light of day.

Even The trial, conviction and incarceration of Daryl Hunt was tainted by the inaccuracies of the few stories done in the daily. The Chronicle did the only interview with Daryl Hunt to get his side of the story out. Ask Larry Little. At the time, under the leadership of Allen Johnson, editor, The Chronicle received the Community Service Award for coverage of Daryl Hunt. The NC Press judges indicated that without The Chronicle’s coverage, Hunt’s side would have gone uncovered.  All told when the facts came out 18 years later the same daily that was a part of the conviction also took credit for his exoneration.

I wore many hats in the early days including publisher, editor, and reporter, advertising salesman and circulation manager.

John Templeton, our first editor, wrote a 13 part series on the history of black Winston-Salem. When he left The Chronicle he went to become the editor of the nation’s oldest black newspaper, The Afro American in Richmond, Virginia. Who can forget Azzie Wagner who wrote a column called “Social Whirl”? Her portrait hangs in the lobby of The Chronicle since 1987. Artist-L. Cornell. Allen Johnson helped launch “Black College Sports Review”. He is now the editor of the editorial page at The News and Record. Angela Wright who gave the school superintendent so much hell that he called her my “pit bulldog.” She went on to the Charlotte Observer.

Kevin Walker, Chronicle Managing Editor for 16 years, led The Chronicle in becoming a premiere community newspaper.  During the course of publishing, we discovered that the black community was not the only voice neglected in the majority press; there were many small voices.  There were numerous nonprofits and small organizations who couldn’t compete for the editorial space in dailies.  So The Chronicle expanded its vision to community journalism to be inclusive and to become a bridge between the black and white communities where advocacy, understanding, and a voice could make a difference.

Kevin was a master at community journalism; each week he would put together a collage of stories that covered national, local, business, birthdays, and anniversaries. Kevin deferred his dreams of graduate school for many years, but this August, he was accepted to graduate study at American University.  The Chronicle and this community owes Kevin a great deal of thanks for his many years of sacrifice and dedication.  We wish him well and know he will make a difference wherever he decides to go from there.

When The Chronicle coverage included the Hispanic community, Dr. Maya Angelou called to say that now she could say that The Chronicle was truly her hometown newspaper.  Dr. Angelou and I became friends and she later warned me that when I began to advocate for not just black people but poor and disenfranchised people that it could be dangerous.  She said that when Dr. King included them his fate became prophetic as well as poetic; she reached out to my wife during my incarceration and sent me an autographed copy of her book as a show of support.

Dr. “A” was so impressed with our mission and commitment to the community she wrote a column for The Chronicle. We were the only newspaper in America to have her as a columnist, she charged us $33 per column. We miss her voice.

There were many other notable editors and community journalists over the years including Yvette Belton, Rudy Anderson, Robin Barksdale Irvin, Angela Wright, Sheridan Hill, Richard Williams, Sam Davis and more recently Layla Garms and Todd Luck.

I didn’t have to wear as many hats when Alice Pearson joined our sales team and then Julie Perry.  Circulation Manager Melvin Wilkins and Lynn Hairston led the Chronicle in its first circulation audit. Later Mike Pitt became circulation manager and then advertising manager before starting his own business.

Business staff like Verisia West, Ericka Asbury, Vicky Warren (deceased), LA Cheryl Mitchell, and most recently Andrea Moses all helped this newspaper better serve our readers, subscribers and advertisers.  Paulette Moore continues to be in a category by herself as the consummate ambassador with Chronicle visitors and assisting with community news submissions.

Now, 41 years later we’re still here … stronger than ever thanks be to God. And, we are grateful for the many people who are proud Chronicle readers. They know that they are always welcome in our office and that we always have time for them and the issues that suffocates and smothers progress in our community.

We are extremely proud and blessed with this issue and we thank our more than 25,000 readers for your continued support of this, YOUR COMMUNITY NEWSPAPER.

May God bless each and every one of you and we expect to be around 41 more years. Make sure you let your children and grandchildren know this story.

Please forgive an old publisher for being long winded in his memories on The Chronicle’s 41st anniversary (birthday).  I am sure I have omitted thanking some people; please charge it to my head and not my heart.

Thank you Winston-Salem for 41 years and an awesome journey in community publishing.

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