Indianapolis Recorder Newspaper celebrates 120 years

INDIANAPOLIS - The oldest African-American newspaper in Indiana was celebrating its 120th anniversary.

The Indianapolis Recorder Newspaper got its start during a time of racial tension. The newspaper chronicled the history of a people and the stories on the pages were meant to educate, advocate and motivate.

"Because that's the only way African-Americans were able to really learn about what's going on, that’s the only way individuals in Indiana, individuals in the South were able to know what was going on across the country because of the black media ... so very important role we played," President Shannon Williams said.

The Recorder was founded in 1895 by George Stewart and Will Porter as a two-page church bulletin. It was later expanded into a weekly newspaper.

In 1988, reporter Eunice Trotter bought the publication and then in 1990, it was purchased by William Mays, who later appointed his niece, Carolene Mays, as publisher and general manager.

The Indianapolis Recorder is now the third-oldest African-American newspaper in the country and the oldest African-American newspaper in Indiana.

"When I think about the Recorder being the third-oldest surviving black publication -- I think of success and tenacity and determination because it takes all of those things to really make it to that 120-year milestone," Williams said.

Readers have celebrated the accomplishments of their own -- Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as TIME Magazine's man of the year, Ernie Banks hailed as a hero and local Crispus Attucks High School basketball star Oscar Robertson featured right above Cassius Clay -- better known as Muhammad Ali.

In times of tremendous strife -- the Recorder endured threats of bombings and arson, but the staff kept writing the stories -- intent on keeping their loyal readers informed.

Journalist Barato Britt sought out a job at the Indianapolis Recorder in 1996.

"We prided ourselves in really being able to address issues as they related to African-Americans in Indianapolis from a particular perspective, so I mean, it was a badge of honor for us to really try to represent our community and share information that we thought would be relevant and engaging to the people," Britt said.

The paper continued to support and empower African-Americans and kept its roots of religion and community, but in the late 1990s, a greater emphasis was placed on technology, financial stability and more local and positive news. That is a formula the Recorder's staff still adheres to today.

Former Recorder reporter Tysha Sellers realized the importance of her work.

"There is a legacy to carry on in terms of telling the stories about what’s happening in the African-American community, not only what's happening, but then also looking at different ways to help improve the lives of African-Americans," Sellers said.

Both then and now, the Indianapolis Recorder serves as a testament to the African-American heritage -- with a strong commitment to building on its historic foundation.

"So mostly I just feel very proud. Very proud of those who came before us and I think it’s our responsibility to really honor them and their sacrifices by continuing the legacy of the newspaper," Williams said.

Click here to look through old editions of the Indianapolis Recorder dating back to 1899. The archives were digitized through the Indiana Historical Society and Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.

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