Fifty years ago the Baltimore-based Afro-American, which celebrates its 100th anniversary this month, was locked in mortal combat against a tenacious foe. America had entered World War II only a few months earlier and the country was desperately trying to mobilize the millions of men needed to fight the Axis.
Yet the U.S. War Department, following long tradition, stubbornly refused to dismantle segregation in the armed forces -- a policy bitterly denounced by militant black newspaper editors such as the Afro's Carl J. Murphy.
So relentless was the barrage of criticism that poured from the editorial pages of the nation's black-owned newspapers that the Justice Department threatened to charge 20 leading black editors, including Murphy, with sedition and shut down their presses. The newspapers suddenly found it almost impossible to get newsprint.
Yet Carl Murphy, the scholarly son of Afro founder John H. Murphy Sr., refused to knuckle under. As local NAACP president as well as head of America's largest black newspaper at the time, he stoutly defended his stand as a matter of principle. Somehow the paper continued to publish.
The crisis passed only when the War Department agreed to relax the ban that restricted black troops to menial roles. One &L; consequence was the formation of the first squadron of black military pilots at Tuskegee Army Air Field in Tuskegee, Ala.
By the end of the war the Tuskegee-trained 332nd Fighter Group, nicknamed the "Red-Tailed Angels," had become one of the most decorated units in the European theater. After the war, the efforts of courageous editors such as Mr. Murphy on behalf of black servicemen were vindicated completely when President Truman ordered the desegregation of all the armed forces in 1947.
Perhaps no episode more vividly exemplifies the crusading spirit and uncompromising commitment to racial equality and justice that have been the hallmark of Baltimore's Afro-American Newspapers. The Afro's pages have chronicled the lives of generations of black Marylanders and spoken out passionately and persuasively on issues affecting the paper's readers. As it looks back over a century of faithful service to the community, the Afro can truly take pride in a job well done.