time to celebrate, appreciate, and reflect on the Eagle
By David Goodwin
In 2003, I was named editor of The Middletown Journal in Ohio. It was an occasion to celebrate, to appreciate, and to reflect.
Celebrate: I was a rarity in daily newspaper leadership. I was one of only eleven African- American journalists as an editor at one of the more than 1,450 daily newspapers in the United States in 2003.
Appreciate: I was not a rarity within my family, however. I was merely following my family’s vocation. I’m a fourth-generation journalist. My paternal great-grandfather, James Henri Goodwin, who had a fourth-grade education, was named business manager of The Tulsa Star in 1916 by publisher and editor A.J. Smitherman, the first African-American newspaper editor and publisher to produce a long-running daily in the state of Oklahoma. My maternal great-grandfather, James Ballard Osby, started a fledging newspaper in Springfield, Illinois. From their lineages came journalists who became pioneers integrating newspapers in Tulsa, Oklahoma; Flint, Michigan; Kansas City, Missouri; Indianapolis, Indiana; as well as an editor of the Louisiana Weekly in a contributor to the NAACP’s The Crisis Magazine.
Most notably, I followed the path of Edward Lawrence Goodwin, Sr., an inductee in 1980, who purchased The Oklahoma Eagle in 1936 because he was tired of being vilified by the Tulsa metropolitan press that disparagingly labeled him as “the black mayor of the City of Tulsa… because of the fact that I had become involved in all of these illegal operations. … So, the metropolitan press was so strong in their accusations against me, I said, ‘Well, I guess this is a good thing for me to do. I’m going to buy one of these papers.”’
Instead of trying to restore and reshape his reputation, my grandfather discovered that his mission was far more consequential. “…I decided that I would dedicate the rest of my life fighting for the things that I knew that black people needed and never had in order to elevate them to a higher social level, a higher economic level, than that they’d been accustomed to.” He stamped this mission below the masthead, “We Make America Great When We Aid Our People.”
My grandfather served as editor and publisher for four decades, and earned national respect with his lifelong campaign for civil and human rights. Today, The Eagle remains the lone black-owned business still in operation since the heydays of Greenwood’s famous “Black Wall Street of America.”
My grandfather mentored scores of journalists who became trailblazers in their own rights. Among those individuals were:
- Eagle editor Edgar T. Rouzeau worked at the New York Herald Tribune and was the first African American to be accredited to cover World War II.
- Editor Thelma Thurston Gorham wrote a national award-winning series of front-page editorials in 1954-55 on integration, using the theme, “Are We Ready?” She would later serve as executive editor of The Black Dispatch in Oklahoma City, a reporter for Ebony and Jet magazines, and a journalism professor and dean at four universities.
- Luix Virgil Overbea, who served stints both as city editor and sports editor, became one of the first blacks to integrate a Southern newspaper, the Winston-Salem Journal and Sentinel in North Carolina. He later worked for the St. Louis Sentinel, the St. Louis Globe-Democrat, and the Christian Science Monitor.
- Editorial editor and columnist Benjamin Hill served from 1951-1971 and was one of Tulsa’s leading religious figures and a state lawmaker.
- Staff writer Carmen Fields was a member of The Boston Globe’s team that was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for its massive and balanced coverage of the Boston school desegregation crisis and later became the first African American to hold a newsroom leadership position. She later worked as a Reporter and anchor for WHDH-TV and WGBH-TV in Boston, Massachusetts.
- Editor and columnist Don Ross later worked as a columnist and assistant managing editor at the Post-Tribune in Gary, Indiana. He was a celebrated writer who formed an alliance with syndicated columnists Art Buckwald, Russell Baker, Erma Bombeck, and Andy Rooney to create an unofficial club, the “Academy of Humor Columnists.” As an Oklahoma legislator, Ross sponsored the bill that created the Tulsa Riot Commission that did the first serious investigation into what happened in 1921.
The list of successful people who started at Eagle is long and distinguished.
Through the years, eight of my grandfather’s children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren would work at The Eagle in various roles from newspaper carriers, to staff writers, columnists, photographers, press operators, administrators, advertisers, circulators, and executives. My grandmother, Jeanne B. Goodwin, wore many hats at the newspaper, most notably writing a popular weekly column “Scoopin’ the Scoop!” under the pen name, Ann Brown, for more than four decades.
In 2015, the Oklahoma Journalism Hall of Fame inducted my father and uncle, James Osby Goodwin, Sr., and Edward Lawrence Goodwin, Jr., respectively. Both served as editor and publisher after starting their careers as paper carriers. In 1986, my father told researcher Dr. Karen Brown Dunlap that The Eagle’s vital role and relevance remains at our core today. “The paper will survive because of the purpose it serves. When I came to this position [as publisher] five years ago, I tried to find the purpose of the paper. The black press is still an alternative. It still talks about issues that are not addressed by metropolitan media. Its mission is as relevant today as in the days of Freedom’s Journal.”
In 2020, Robert Kerr “Bob” Goodwin was awarded the Hall of Fame’s Lifetime Achievement Award. At 23, he left seminary early to assume leadership of the publishing company in 1972. Under his direction, The Eagleexpanded to include editions in Muskogee, Okmulgee, Lawton, and in Wichita, Kansas; Monday Morning Eagle edition; a weekly Employment Central edition; publishing opportunities; and operating an independent printing company, Pronto Print.
Bob is an entrepreneur, a college administrator, a former White House official with President George H.W. Bush, and an executive in the nonprofit arena. He served as president and CEO of the Points of Light Foundation, now Points of Light, an organization responsible for assisting and encouraging citizens to engage in volunteer service.
Despite a decline in newspaper readership and closures, The Eagle is the eleventh-oldest black-owned newspaper in the United States of 166 remaining publications affiliated with the National Newspaper Publishers Association.
In 2021, The Eagle will celebrate 100 years of continuous, uninterrupted weekly publication as we prepared to continue to produce a print product and expand our digital footprint.
James O. Goodwin, The Oklahoma Eagle publisher, continues a family newspaper legacy. Pictures in the background are of his brother Edward L. “Ed” Goodwin Jr., his mother Jeanne B.’ and his father, E.L. Goodwin.