Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder

Timely digest (Minneapolis, Minn.) 1931-1932  Browse the title

Minneapolis spokesman (Minneapolis, Minn.) 1934-2000  Browse the title

St. Paul recorder (St. Paul, Minn.) 1934-2000  Browse the title

Minnesota spokesman-recorder (Minneapolis, Minn.) 2000-current  Browse the title

Long-running Twin Cities African American newspaper the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder began its life on August 10, 1934 as two separate weekly titles with largely identical content: the Minneapolis Spokesman and the St. Paul Recorder. The two were founded by Cecil Newman, a leader in the Twin Cities African American community, who used his position and his papers to fight against racial discrimination locally and nationally, and to support and improve the lives of Black Minnesotans.  

Newman moved to Minneapolis from Kansas City in 1922, working as a busboy and Pullman porter. He co-founded his first newspaper, the weekly Twin-City Herald, in April 1927, serving as editor until 1934 when he left to start the Spokesman and the Recorder newspapers. Newman also published the monthly magazine Timely Digest between April 1931 and May 1932, claimed to be the first and only African American magazine in the northwestern United States.

The Twin Cities African American community was relatively small in the 1930s, totaling around 7,000 people. The Spokesman and the Recorder served as “small-town” style newspapers for the community, highlighting social events, community businesses, clubs, and churches, as well as births, deaths, and weddings. They also covered local scandal and gossip among both the African American and white communities. While the content of the two titles overlaps considerably, the issues do contain some difference in layout, news, society articles, photographs, and especially advertisements. By 1939, the papers claimed 3,400 subscribers, and circulation grew as the African American population in the Twin Cities expanded; in 1950, Minnesota was home to 14,000 African Americans, and the newspapers claimed 4,100 subscribers. 

Newman’s editorial in the first issues of the Spokesman and the Recorder swore “to speak out fearlessly and unceasingly against injustice, discrimination and all imposed inequalities.” The papers covered national news and issues related to race and racial discrimination and the struggle for civil rights, including the trial of the Scottsboro boys in the 1930s, Paul Robeson’s controversial statements on Communism, and the 1954 Brown vs Board US Supreme Court decision. During World War II the Spokesman and the Recorder covered the actions and deaths of local Black servicemen overseas, while also reporting on racism in the military. 

The newspapers sponsored regular community forums at the Hallie Q. Brown Community House in St. Paul and Phyllis Wheatley House in Minneapolis, featuring discussions on social and racial issues, and hosting nationally known Black speakers, including W.E.B DuBois, Mary McLeod Bethune, George Schuyler, and George Washington Carver. Newman frequently expounded on the speakers’ thoughts in subsequent editorials, sometimes harshly criticizing their views.

Newman spearheaded action against industries and unions that excluded African American workers, investigated and exposed cases of job, housing, and business discrimination, and served as the first Black president of the Minneapolis Urban League in the 1940s. Though his newspapers claimed political independence, Newman was active in Democratic politics and was close with Minnesota politician Hubert Humphrey, serving on the Minneapolis Council on Human Relations during Humphrey’s term as the city’s mayor.

Included among the staff of the Spokesman and the Recorder were many well-known Black Twin Citians. Renowned photographer Gordon Parks was a staff photographer in the late 1930s, with his own column titled “Beauty of the Week.” Journalist Nell Dodson wrote a weekly gossip column and also served as the papers’ sports reporter in the 1930s and 40s. She covered the careers of Black athletes nationally and exposed the prevalence of racism in sports nation-wide. Frequently the only Black journalist in the press box, she also had to refute critics who weren’t happy with a woman sportswriter.

Cecil Newman helmed the Spokesman and the Recorder until his death in 1976. Newman’s widow, Launa Q. Newman, then took over operation of the papers, merging the two into one title, Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder, in 2000. Cecil Newman’s granddaughter, Tracey Williams-Dillard, became CEO/Publisher of Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder in 2007.