In 1959, Kwame McDonald came to the Twin Cities as director of employment and guidance in charge of job development and education at the St. Paul Urban League. He was introduced to the MSR — at that time the Minneapolis Spokesman and the St. Paul Recorder — through writing stories about the Urban League in an effort to inform young people in the community of their programs
McDonald describes the paper at that time as “a good information piece for the Black people in Minnesota…almost like a neighborhood journal.
But Mr. [Cecil] Newman made sure that we dealt with the political aspect of the community.”
He also recalls an advertising director in the Spokesman’s early days who he says often wore wrinkled or smudged clothing and shoes with overrun heels. “My understanding at that time [is that] from his work he earned over $30,000 a year, and that was more than anybody in Minnesota that we knew of was making. That includes people who were working for the State. That includes people who were working for White corporations.”
McDonald began writing about education in the late ’80s, long before the No Child Left Behind legislation. “I was very critical of the educational establishment mainly,” McDonald says. What he has been writing consistently since the mid-’80s is his weekly sports column, “Kwame’s Kapsules,” though writing was never an actual goal.
“I didn’t start out to thinking that [I was a writer], but because people responded to my articles and I also really loved writing, I think I was more of a writer than anything else I ever was. I was very direct, very opinionated and very critical.”
The Spokesman-Recorder is not the only Twin Cities newspaper that McDonald wrote for. He wrote for both the Twin Cities Courier, published by Mary Kyle, which ran from 1966-1986, and Insight News published by Al McFarland.
During his time in the Twin Cities, he says that he has seen many Black newspapers come and go. He credits the Spokesman’s staying power to its talented group of writers.
Among its current writers, McDonald acknowledges excellence in the writings of columnist Ron Edwards, contributing writer Dwight Hobbes, jazz writer Robin James, sports writer Larry Fitzgerald, senior columnist Matt Little, and staff writer Charles Hallman, who he says is the hardest working and most sincere journalist to ever write for the paper.
McDonald also salutes his son, Mitch McDonald, who along with Hallman, Fitzgerald and himself has offered Minnesota the widest range of sports coverage from a Black perspective in the state.
He believes that the Spokesman celebrates its 78th anniversary this month largely because of its founder. “I think some people, even though we struggle financially, still support the paper because of Cecil Newman. Cecil Newman, in my mind, has been — and perhaps is — the most important, most powerful Black person in Minnesota history.”
McDonald says that he believes Hubert Humphrey would credit Newman for his political rise more than any other single person. Newman was the first to endorse Humphrey when he was running for Minneapolis mayor — even before the mainstream press.
McDonald credits Newman for his own career as well. “Cecil was responsible for a lot of the trips that I made to Washington, D.C. to testify before Congress. He don’t know I knew that; he never let on. When they needed somebody to go there and talk about us [Black folks], Humphrey was the senator, and he was the one to decide who would come and speak to the senate, and it would be me.”
He also says that Matthew Little and Cecil Newman were responsible for his appointment to director of the Minnesota State Commission against Discrimination at the age of 30.
“Cecil [Newman] and Matthew Little really saw beyond themselves. They gave a bigger sacrifice than I have. They gave it all up to help Black people advance, and I’m so sorry that very few understand the role that those…men and some others played in the advancement of Black people in this state.”
Of all the different types of writing that McDonald has done over the years for the MSR, he is most proud of his “Wise Owl” columns. Through the column, Wise Owl provides answers to Brother Kwame from the perspective of an Afrikan elder.
“Oftentimes I would write with my own name and somehow something held me back from really telling the truth, and I thought that if I could mask it with Wise Owl that more of the truth would come out of me.”
Wise Owl columns are inspired when McDonald feels fed up with “Americanism, fed up with so-called capitalism.” He says that though others who are born in or immigrate to the U.S. are afforded all the rights of citizenship, people of African descent are not.
“The best example probably is the president, who on the one hand was able to become president, yet is not respected as a president,” McDonald says. “And that’s the power people, the capitalists of this country…the ones who actually run and rule the country.” Through Wise Owl, McDonald has expressed his beliefs about war, racism and religion.
Even in light of the fact that he has been submitting articles for half a century, in his modesty McDonald apologizes for his role at the Spokesman, describing himself as a lazy writer. Yet, for his contribution to this publication for over 50 years, the MSR publisher and staff thank him for sharing his opinions and unique insights with our readers.
Kwame McDonald, we salute you.
Vickie Evans-Nash welcomes reader responses to vnash@spoke man-recorder.com.
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