Last week I mentioned in my letter (and we featured on our cover) The Vallejo Observer, a bi-weekly newspaper that started in 1945, published by black people primarily for black people. While looking through the old yellow copies, I was struck by the similarity of our stated goals to the stated goals of the publishers of this paper more than sixty years ago. The following letter, published in their first issue on March 29, 1945, says a great deal about the people who labored to publish the paper while America was still at war.
?Open Letter to the Public?
The Editorial Staff of the ?Vallejo Observer? takes this opportunity to thank the merchants in Vallejo and our many friends for their cooperation in making it possible for this newspaper to be published.
It is our sole desire that a colored newspaper in Vallejo will occupy a vital position in the effort to establish and maintain friendly and harmonious racial relations. We feel that a newspaper can be of enormous assistance in developing a positive program of information, features and editorials designed to improve racial relations and inculcate a better living standard through our editorials and features.
We are endeavored not only to print unbiasedly the important happenings as we see it but also to encourage and perfect the gift of expression in all interested in journalism. There are so many young men and women who are talented and desire to prove their ability if only given a chance. Some do not have the initiative to go forward and others have been deprived of the opportunity.
Arthur W. Scott, Bus. Mgr.-Adv. Director
It is interesting to observe the patriotic attitude of the publishers reflected in headlines like Three Things To Do: 1. Stay on the job. 2. Buy war bonds regularly. 3. Read the Vallejo Observer. It?s not surprising, considering that the majority of Vallejo?s black population was employed at Mare Island?s Naval Shipyard. But, while supporting the war, and reporting on troop movements and local and national black heros in the war, they also maintained a staunchly militant attitude about the rights of black folks at home. Features about struggles for black people to get equal representation in the unionsof which they were members of, the formation of the NAACP, speeches by Paul Robeson and W.E.B. Dubois. One poignant story about a young mixed couple in Texas points to the stark differences between then and now. A seventeen year old black boy was accused of the rape of a sixteen year old white girl, who professed to love him in court and in letters to the judge. Her pleas went unacknowledged, and the boy was sentenced to 60 years in prison.
We can and should celebrate our progress, and proclaim our desire never to return to the same sort of practices that sent a young boy to prison for the crime of falling in love. But there is a bittersweet note to all progress. I don?t actually know the answer to why the paper is no longer published today, but I suspect that it went the same way as many black organizations of the time. It probably disappeared with integration. Sure it was great that Jackie Robinson opened the door to a new day in sports, but what happened to the black baseball league and the culture and society that surrounded it? On October 31, 1945 the headline of The Vallejo Observer read ?LOCAL NAACP AWAITS HOME OFFICE?S MOVE. FEDERAL TERRACE TO REMAIN WHITE.? The Vallejo Housing Authority?s move to exclude black people from this local housing project, was one good reason for a black newspaper?s existence at the time. They were much more likely to put a story like that on the cover, and follow it through to its conclusion. But what happened? It seems ironic that Federal Terrace is now Section 8 housing that is almost exclusively populated by black people. Did the civil rights movement negate the need for a black publication?
I don?t think so, but in the race to be included, perhaps the benefits of exclusively black organizations were not appreciated as much as they might have been at the time. A letter to the editor in the first issue, written by Geo S. Walker, who I suspect was white, stated that he believed ?such a publication also will be of benefit to ALL the people of this community.? I think he was getting at the idea that the more we know about each other, the less there is to fear or hate, a sentiment that is as true today as it was then. While they proclaimed on every front page ?Dedicated to the Greatest Good of the Community? we proclaim ?Fulfilling the Promise of Diversity.? Perhaps the slight difference is a reflection of the times in which we live. We recognize that the struggle for equality continues. We recognize that integrated schools haven?t necessarily provided any of our children with better educations. We struggle not to be overwhelmed or overlooked by a ?good old boy? taking-care-of-business attitude that still excludes diversity.
If anyone reading this has more information about The Vallejo Observer or a story to tell about Vallejo?s history, we would be very happy to hear from you, and and as always to publish your Letter to the Editor in our Speak Out! section. Please join our celebration of black history at Listen & Be Heard Poetry Caf? on Saturday, February 11. It will start at 11am with a free acoustic jam hosted by Mica Lee Williams. The festivities continue from 6-8pm with a free artist?s reception for O?neal Turner. You can express yourself during our free open mic from 8-9pm, and then sit back and enjoy the comedy by local comedian D.C. Ervin and others, followed by a jazz concert with The Talons. The price of admission after 9pm will be $10.
Wishing each of you Peace and Poetry.