While numerous newspapers and magazines have gone under throughout history, the New Pittsburgh Courier continues to march on.
The third oldest African-American newspaper in the United States, recently celebrated 100 years of existence—a centennial highlighting the years of producing thought-provoking and entertaining stories for the City of Pittsburgh and beyond.
The Centennial gala was held at Stage AE on the North Shore, Feb. 19, in which the late Earl Hord, P. L. Prattis and John Sengstacke were honored along with current Editor and Publisher Rod Doss. The evening featured entertainment by Carrie Lucas.
“The New Pittsburgh Courier celebrates 100 years of journalistic excellence,” said Hiram E. Jackson, CEO of Real Times Media, which owns the New Pittsburgh Courier and several other African-American newspapers. “While achieving a centennial is a momentous occasion for any organization, the magnitude of this event is even greater. The depth of this celebration is much more significant because each year of the 100 we are celebrating, represents a season of unique perspective and empowerment for the African-American community.”
“I’m very excited to see that Black voices are still being heard and the Black media can touch people in all walks of life,” said David M. Milliner, board member and shareholder of Real Times Media. “I’m glad we can have a sense of presence and impact in the community.”
New Pittsburgh Courier supporter Dr. Edmund D. Effort, DDS, agreed with Milliner.
“The Courier is an excellent newspaper that has survived the test of time where others have failed. The staff is like a team that knows that they have to contribute time and intellect and resources to keep the paper going.”
There are 14 full-time staff members employed at the paper.
The Pittsburgh Courier was the first Black newspaper to publish both national and local editions. At one time, there were as many as 21 editions circulated in cities and states coast to coast including Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, the Mid West, St. Louis, Mo.; Ohio, New York, Florida, Washington, D.C., and Illinois. In its heyday, the Pittsburgh Courier boasted a national circulation of between 350,000 to 480,000 with more than 400 full time employees and hundreds more part timers, in 14 to 21 cities.
“The fact that the Courier has lasted locally is amazing,” said former Courier employee Gene Stevens. Stevens sold the paper 65 years ago when he was a little boy and it was located on Centre Avenue. “It is the only paper that deals with us.”
Robert Lee Vann gained control of the Pittsburgh Courier in 1910. During the Great Depression, Vann urged his readers to vote Democratic.
Honoree Prattis, who started with the Courier in 1935 as City Editor, was promoted to Senior Editor after the death of Vann and became Editor of the Courier in 1956. He was the first African-American news correspondent to be admitted to the press galleries of the United States House of Representatives and the Senate in 1947.
Earl V. Hord worked as advertising manager and business manager before being appointed general manager of the paper in 1952, he was a key piece of the paper’s continued success through the 1950s.
“Earl Hord loved the Pittsburgh Courier. He worked to ensure that the Courier employees enjoyed the same benefits that the White paper employees did,” explained Hord’s daughter, Marva Harris. He helped get Courier employees into the union, which assured them of higher pay.
In 1966 when the Courier was at the brink of financial ruin, John H. Sengstacke, who owned several other papers, purchased it because he believed that Black newspapers were a vitally needed resource.
“To let the Courier fail would be sending the wrong message to people all over the world, both Black and White. The Courier, along with the Chicago Defender are the symbols of freedom in this country and we still have a long way to go. So no, I could not and would not allow this great paper to go under, there is so much more to do in this country when it comes to the Negro,” Sengstacke said when asked why he decided to purchase the paper.
He renamed the paper the New Pittsburgh Courier and returned it to profitability. Sengstacke strategically narrowed the editorial focus to center on civil rights issues, ultimately making the paper part of the largest and most influential chain of African-American newspapers in the country.
Current Editor and Publisher Doss has held this position since 1997. Doss oversees the financial, administrative and departmental activities of the New Pittsburgh Courier. Doss got his start with the paper in 1967 as an advertising sales representative, advancing to advertising manager in 1970 and vice-president of advertising in 1978. Doss was named editor and publisher after Sengstacke passed away in 1997.
Doss, Sengstacke, Prattis and Hord were all honored for their devoted years of service during the Centennial gala.
“This is a wonderful night because it shows Rod’s and the paper’s ability to change with the times and be innovative and keep readers. I think Rod is a genius,” said Yvonne Hall, Doss’s sister.
And thus the night went: well-wishers were on hand to congratulate the New Pittsburgh Courier paper on the amazing milestone.
That’s why former Courier Managing Editor Lou Ransom and his wife, Gerri—a former Courier secretary—returned to Pittsburgh to attend the festivities.
“How many Black businesses are 100? While newspapers are dying, ethnic newspapers are growing and doing better,” said Ransom.
His wife Gerri concurred.
“I didn’t realize that the Black paper was so valuable until Lou started working there. Once he started working there, I knew why my grandparents read the newspaper,” Gerri Ransom said.
Mistress of Ceremonies for the Black-tie-optional evening was Emmy-Award winning writer and producer and an original co-host of BET’s Video Soul, Sheila Banks. Entertainment for the gala came from Carrie Lucas, of Solar Records. She began her musical career as a backup singer for The Whispers. She had her first solo hit with the disco song, “I Gotta Keep Dancin’,” which she released in 1977.
Following a throwback performance by Lucas, attendees were treated to a dessert reception.
“It was a fabulous evening and the entertainment was out of sight!” Doss said. “The stories in the Courier lifted the community and showed Black people in places they wouldn’t see themselves in.”
“The Courier is doing the same thing today as it did 100 years ago,” said Ulish Carter, managing editor. “We cover the Black community. We tell their stories. No one can tell our story better than us. The Courier had a much larger staff, and circulation in the
early days, even though we are smaller we still cover the city of Pittsburgh with an assortment of writers and photographers that 100 years from now people will be talking about. Be it news, good or bad, entertainment, sports, society, religion, business, health, you name it, if it’s happening in the Black community or affects the Black community, we are there.”