MSR river cruise celebrated 80 years of publishing


On Saturday, August 1, friends, supporters and contributors of the oldest African American-owned business in Minnesota gathered at St. Croix Boat & Packet on 525 Main Street South in Stillwater to commemorate 80 years of continuous publication of the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder (MSR) with a riverboat cruise celebration.

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A toast to 80 years!
A toast to 80 years!

The event took place from 11:30 am to after 2 pm, and while the event was mainly a celebration of the Spokesman-Recorder, it was also a tribute to the community it serves.

“It means that we’re not only celebrating 80 years, but we’re celebrating the community,” said Tracey Williams-Dillard, publisher and CEO of the MSR and granddaughter to Cecil E. Newman who established the newspaper in August 1934. “We have the community on the boat right now with us and… they’re supportive of what we do [and] they know the importance of us existing 80 years and then some. They know it’s very, very important.”

Cecil E. Newman originally founded the papers known as the Minneapolis Spokesman and Saint Paul Recorder. The two newspaper were committed to meeting the news and information needs of African Americans in Minnesota. The two papers merged in 2000 to become the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.

The paper has remained an African American family-owned business throughout its history, with Cecil Newman’s wife, Launa Newman, succeeding him as publisher for 32 years following his death in 1976. Williams-Dillard became the publisher in 2008.

Those attending the event expressed excitement and pride on behalf of the MSR for reaching the 80-year benchmark. “I think it’s pretty exciting for just celebrating 80 years of publishing the same paper,” said Bob Keller, who developed the current website for the MSR. Keller went on to say, “I think there’s a lot of pride. And it’s a great thing to celebrate”

Tracey Williams Dillard accepts  from Erin Maye, a representative from congressman Keith Ellison's office
Tracey Williams Dillard accepts from Erin Maye, a representative from congressman Keith Ellison\’s office

Williams-Dillard offered a similar sentiment regarding the event’s broader import to the African American community that her family’s paper serves: “I think what it means for the community is that there’s hope,” said Williams-Dillard. “I’ve heard hope today. I’ve heard perseverance today. I’ve heard joy today, and I’ve heard pride today. So it means all of that to the community.”

The Steeles, a vocal ensemble composed of five siblings from Gary, Indiana who later moved to Minnesota and have been featured on local and national commercials, sang at the event. “Being here is supporting this fabulous newspaper,” said J.D. Steele, one of the group members who sang at the event, in a speech before his performance. “It’s one of the most treasured and most honored things that we’ve done in a very, very long time.”

J.D. Steele and the Steele Family
J.D. Steele and the Steele Family

In addition to The Steeles’ performance, the paper received several notices of recognition from local government offices in honor of their 80 years of service to the African American community in Minnesota. The MSR received proclamations from Governor Mark Dayton, St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, and Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges. The Minnesota Legislature issued a congratulatory resolution, and the Office of U.S. Congressman Keith Ellison issued a similar resolution that will be read into the Congressional Record on the House floor.

Although the paper has just celebrated 80 years of service to the African American community in Minnesota, benchmarks are already being set for continued service in the years to come. “I want us to be able to reach a lot of lives and make a lot of difference in people’s lives…from the articles that we write and the news that we share with people,” said Williams-Dillard.


Daniel Abramowitz is an MSR journalism intern and a student at Macalester College. He welcomes reader responses to


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