by S.Rotan Hale
What can you say about an African American newspaper continuously publishing for 80 years–particularly in this .com age as the number of newspapers nationwide, (big and small) steadily declines?
It was at the Tribune’s anniversary banquet, held Friday, May 10 at Salem Civic Center, that four noteworthy personalities had plenty to say about the small family-owned weekly newspaper considered by most as “the heartbeat of the community.”
Unfortunately Roanoke Mayor Sherman Lea was unable to attend due to a family emergency. However, those at the well-attended affair were surprised when treated to an altered rendition of ‘Hello Dollie,’ performed a cappella by former mayor David Bowers. His tribute to the occasion, went over quite well, after-which he said, “I told Claudia (Whitworth) I was gonna sing your praises.”
Whitworth, as editor/publisher, has been at the helm of the weekly periodical since acquiring it in 1971 from her father Rev. F.E. Alexander who retired due to medical reasons.
Bowers salute was the perfect opener for the remaining speakers who each followed with their own personal testimonies.
“We depend on The Tribune to give us the good news in our community and lets not make any mistake. Not all of us are shooting and looting,” said former vice-mayor, Councilwoman Anita Price during her prepared remarks.
“The Tribune shares the celebrations of our African American community’s graduations, the advancements, elections, business openings and the amazing accomplishments of our youth.”
Added to that list were the social and civic organizations she mentioned by name. Many members of such groups sat in the audience as representatives of their respective organizations also frequently featured in the Tribune.
“If it’s not in the Tribune, it’s not documented, it never happened,” she added. If we don’t put our celebrations and what we do for the community in the Tribune it is for naught.”
Price took special issue stressing the importance of support for the Tribune as one of the oldest Black businesses in the area.
In closing she spoke on the correlation between the Tribune and the Sankofa bird– a metaphorical, bird-like symbol in West African folklore depicted as a bird with its head turned backward taking an egg from its back. The story of the bird basically expresses the importance of using past knowledge to make positive future progress.
Price said she learned the story from Rev. Bill Lee who also happened to be among those who spoke.
As one of four speakers on program, Judge Onzlee Ware reflected on the Tribune’s success as a small Black business due to the editor’s commitment to tradition, family and love.
“The Tribune has survived because it’s centered on love. Mrs. Whitworth loved her dad (Rev. Alexander) who passed the paper on to her. She loves her family and that’s what keeps a family together, unity,” Judge Ware said. Where there’s unity, there’s love and where there’s unity and love there are always hopes and dreams.”
As a Domestic Relations Court judge, Ware said he takes the Trib to work and told of how he monitors the circulation of the Tribune in and around the municipal offices downtown and encourages those interested, regardless to race, as to its significance.
“The Tribune shows America. It is informative for the whole community,” he said. “Success is more than one race, its bread through people. An essential ingredient in success–and you (Whitworth) have it, Stan has it and your daddy had it, is love.”
Known as a teaching preacher, Rev. Lee opened his remarks with the origin of the name ‘Tribune’ which dates back to the Roman Empire.
Lee spoke of the Plebeians, a lower social class in ancient Rome for which the government established a tribunal–an order of ten men to hear the concerns of the commoners.
“That (concept) makes sense to me, that’s why Mrs. Whitworth, that’s why Stan, the little folk like us get a hearing because we’ve got a Tribune that makes noise for us,” Lee said bringing it into perspective and present-day significance.
“The Tribune helps folks understand who we are,” Lee added.
As a final note Rev. Lee took issue with the nominal fees (subscriptions, ads. etc.) of the paper in contrast to modern-day costs.
Though not on program, Nathaniel Bishop, president, Jefferson College of Health Science, when asked to speak briefly testified to his and his family’s years of allegiance to the Tribune.
“The Tribune has wonderful rich roots here in the area,” said Bishop who spoke of the connections regarding his family from Christiansburg and Rev. Alexander, who pastured, Schaeffer Memorial BC in that area.”
Melinda Payne, as program MC, read an excerpt from an article (publ. 2004) about Tribune editor Whitworth that described in eloquent terms her ““quiet excellence in the slow lane.””
The article proceeded to speak on Whitworth being chosen Citizen of the Year and said… “the honor was well deserved.”
“Mrs. Whitworth’s legacy of entrepreneurship, humanitarianism and philosophy of life are a living testimony to a rich life lived with passion, devotion and purpose,” the article stated in a most profoundly poetic fashion.
Payne provided the crowning touch that brought the entire program together with style and her special flair.
As the event’s final speaker, Whitworth expounded on her mission of keeping the paper’s focus positive as apposed to other papers leading with stories of murders and the down side of society.
“I was told that I would never make it reporting only the good news,” she said. “Good news just doesn’t sell!”
Nonetheless, Whitworth, her family and the dedicated staff at The Roanoke Tribune continue now for 80 years to “Make and Record Black …and sell papers!