Black journalism conference kicks off in Mpls — a remarkable 40 year milestone


Wayne Dawkins
Wayne Dawkins

From Wednesday through Sunday, Aug. 5-9, members of the National Association of Black Journalists will convene their first convention in Minneapolis. This Twin City — sibling St. Paul is next door — has a special relationship with Black journalists.

In the 1ate 1940s Carl Rowan broke barriers when he became a journalist at the Minneapolis Tribune. At that time he was among a handful of African Americans working in daily journalism. By the mid-’70s NABJ founder Sam Ford worked at CBS affiliate WCCO-TV where he did heart-wrenching reporting.

Related content: Three Black journos had memorable MN careers

najbgraphicwebBy the mid-1980s, two members of NABJ’s 17-member board of directors worked in the Twin Cities at the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Thirty years ago the board held a spring business meeting that included a contentious vote, and visiting board members’ unfounded fears of being trapped in a snowstorm.

Journalists who lived there or currently and live and thrive in Minneapolis-St. Paul confirm that winters are remarkably cold, but they have other joys and quirky facts to share with visiting colleagues this week. This first of three posts chronicles the 1985 meeting.

“I remember flying into Minneapolis a few days before the meeting because I had an aunt and uncle who had property about two hours north of the city,” said Douglas C. Lyons, longtime South Florida Sun-Sentinel editorial writer who at the time of the meeting was a U.S. News & World Report correspondent. “That was my memory of running into snow as a storm caught me in a rental car that was more appropriate for Georgia than Minnesota.

“The meeting with the South Africa vote was contentious.” The anti-apartheid movement was at fever pitch. NABJ officials had invited South African Envoy Bernardus G. Fourie to debate Trans Africa Executive Director Randall Robinson at the summer Dallas convention.

There was a motion to take back Fourie’s invitation. After contentious debate, according to my account in “The NABJ Story,” Fourie’s invitation was rescinded after an 8-4 vote. “One board member leaned hard on me for a vote,” said “Lyons. I went with the majority on that one.”

Jackie Jones, an associate professor at Morgan State University, worked at the Star Tribune from 1984-1987. “At the board meeting they were planning the Dallas convention and there was excitement over the Loew’s hotel,” she said. That night she and a colleague picked up TV journalist Ray Metoyer, who came in from Omaha, Nebraska.

Jones remembered the frigid cold, so cold said a colleague, electric extension cords were seen running from houses to the street in order to send juice to the heaters and blankets that were covering or wrapped around the car engines. “I also remember feeling very safe. Crime was low and I even rode my bike to and from work. At 11:30 p.m. I only had to watch out for potholes.”

William W. Sutton Jr., director of communications at Grambling State University, was a Philadelphia Inquirer reporter at the time of the meeting. “It was dang cold, freezing,” he said, “and the snow wouldn’t stop. Thank God we played hand after hand of cards, and I grew a special fondness for “The Terminator,” which I watched several times while waiting for a flight out. I did listen to wise locals and enjoyed the hotel comforts – and NABJ friends.”

Others were anxious about their Sunday departure. Host Walter Middlebrook of the Pioneer Press remembered: “The snow storm arrived the morning of the final day of the meeting. The out-of-town attendees were frantic to get out to the airport because they thought they were going to get stranded in the city. All of us locals were trying to advise them to sit tight and let the road crews do their thing and all would be fine in a couple of hours.

“But nooooo, the craziness was on to get to the airport. But guess what? Those folks who rushed out to the airport ran into the craziness on the snowy roads. There were some delays at the airports, and sure enough, about two hours later, the roads had been cleared and the airports were getting back on schedule.”

“Hey,” said Lyons, “I was anxious to get back to Atlanta.”

NEXT: Narratives of Sam Ford and Walter Middlebrook.


Thanks to , Associate Professor at Hampton University, for sharing this story with us.