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Crusading Spirit Nourishes The Call Over 50 Years

DATE OF EVENT: Mid- to late May 1919

DATE PUBLISHED: Sunday, April 19, 1970, in The Kansas City Star

Editor’s note: It quickly would become a Kansas City institution and soon a nationally recognized voice for the city’s black community, but The Kansas City Call’s early days are something of a mystery.

No news items in The Kansas City Star heralded The Call’s birth, as would be likely today. Its founding was not unique, and so perhaps editors at The Star thought it less newsworthy. The Call was one of four newspapers serving the African-American community of Kansas City, and Kansas City, Kan., had one, as well.

And The Star largely turned a blind eye to the African-American community.

Some researchers have concluded that The Call first was published in the last two weeks of May 1919, but the exact date is unknown. Several area histories note that no copy of The Call’s first editions can be found.

Over time, The Call would become a significant force for civil rights. When its founder, Chester A. Franklin, died in 1955, his story would be prominently played in The Star, with an obituary and photographic coverage of the funeral.

The Kansas City Star recounted the story of The Call when that paper marked its 50th year.

The Kansas City Call weekly newspaper will observe its 50th anniversary with a dinner at 7 o’clock Friday night in the Imperial ballroom of the Hotel Muehlebach. Principal speaker will be Roy Wilkins, executive director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Last week the city council adopted a resolution declaring this week “Kansas City Call Week” in recognition of 50 years service to the community. The following is a capsule history of these years:

All Negro newspapers are crusaders, commented the Kansas City Call editor-publisher, Chester A. Franklin, 20 years ago.

“The serious Negro editor never lacks for issues to charge his batteries: the issues are all around him. His hardest task is to concentrate his efforts on one reform at a time, to keep from scattering his shots.

“He learns through the years that the Negro’s problem is not the Negro’s alone, but is America’s problem, affecting all its citizens, interacting among them in the growth of democracy.”

The founder of the weekly newspaper, who died 15 years ago, had much on which to base this statement. He had founded the newspaper in May, 1919, with the help of his mother, the late Mrs. Clara Belle Franklin.

It came on the scene at a time when the principal voices crying out for freedom and equality for the black man were those of the Negro press and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, which was organized 10 years earlier.

From the beginning the Call was a crusader because Franklin was a crusader. When he first came to Kansas City in 1913 the young printer undertook the fight to give Negroes the right to serve on juries, and today Negro jurors are commonplace.

Under his leadership the newspaper conducted vigorous campaigning for the right of Negroes to live where they please, equal opportunities in employment and the right to vote in the South without intimidation.

It campaigned against murders of Negroes by Negroes and was reportedly successful in reducing the number of slayings in the Kansas City Negro community. One of the most significant victories was the opening up of defense jobs in the Missouri and Kansas area to Negro skilled workmen prior to and during World War II. The results were the admittance of Negroes to the carpenters’ and painters’ unions.

During the war, the Call conducted a “Brown Bomber” campaign in which Negro citizens raised $500,000 in war bonds to buy a B-25 bomber plane. The newspaper also waged a continuous battle against inequalities in the armed forces.

In the beginning years the fledgling newspaper had many obstacles to overcome. When Franklin set up his first typesetting machine, there was no one to run it, and the local printers’ union forbade experienced men to aid him. So, he and his printer taught themselves…

Under the leadership of the late Dowdal H. Davis, who was general manager from 1947-1957 (he joined the staff in 1936) the Call gained the reputation for developing one of the best advertising programs of any of the nation’s Negro newspapers and for carrying a greater percentage of local advertising than any other Negro newspaper.

Like Franklin, Davis was active in civic affairs, in building better race relations and in improving the lot of the Negro.

The most well-known leader who developed as a civil rights advocate while with the Call is Roy Wilkins, executive director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. He had been managing editor for several years before leaving in 1931 to join the staff of the N.A.A.C.P.

Miss Lucile H. Bluford, who succeeded Franklin as editor, gained nation-wide recognition for her persistent fight from 1939-1942 to break down racial restriction s in the Missouri university school of journalism. She holds a degree in journalism from the University of Kansas.

Mrs. Ada Franklin, widow of the founder, has carried on as publisher and company president. …

Throughout its years The Call has achieved many “firsts.” It was the first Negro paper to join the Audit Bureau of Circulations, which guarantees the quality and quantity of a newspaper’s paid circulation. It was the first Negro newspaper to subscribe to one of the three nationwide press associations. …

A 1948 souvenir booklet about The Call, however, states: “The Call’s pride in its achievements doesn’t stop at its many ‘firsts.’ Its outstanding asset insofar as its editor is concerned, is its reputation for accurate and truthful reporting.” …

In recent years The Call has pointed out discrimination in employment, housing and the public schools and has been influential in the election of black public officials at the city, county and state levels. As for the future, Mrs. Franklin indicated the newspaper will continue to espouse the causes, expose the grievance and articulate the desires and hopes of the Negro until freedom, justice and equality become a reality.

However, she sees another direction on the horizon.

“The day is passing,” she explained “when we will just push our (the Negro’s) own particular problems. We’ve fought the racial issues so long, and will still do this, but it’s time for us to inject into the paper things that are interesting to other groups.”

Mrs. Franklin said she believed one of the biggest problems in the community today is lack of communications between people.

“The paper is trying to build communications between people,” she said, “and communication brings understanding.” …