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Newman, Cecil (1903–1976)

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Cecil Newman

Cecil Newman, ca. 1965. Photograph by Rohn Engh.

Cecil Newman was a pioneering newspaper publisher and an influential leader in Minnesota. His newspapers, the Minneapolis Spokesman and the St. Paul Recorder, provided news and information to readers while advancing civil rights, fair employment, political engagement, and Black pride.

Cecil Earl Newman was born in Kansas City, Missouri, in 1903. He transcended the limits of segregated education, becoming the editor of his school paper. As a teen, he delivered African American newspapers as he hoped for a future in the publishing business.

In the early 1920s, Newman headed north to distance himself from the reach of southern racism, settling in Minneapolis. Work as a porter in the railroad industry offered him a decent wage. When he applied for work with mainstream newspapers in the Twin Cities, however, he was refused on the basis of race, so he began working with the long-standing Black paper the Northwestern Bulletin. He also wrote as a freelance reporter or “stringer” for notable Black newspapers, including the Chicago Defender. In 1927, he took over as editor of the Twin City Herald, a Black paper based in Minneapolis.

After seven years at the Herald, Newman resolved to become the publisher of his own publications, and the summer of 1934 saw the first edition of the Minneapolis Spokesman roll off the presses. Its twin, the St. Paul Recorder, followed. In both papers, Newman pledged to “speak out fearlessly and unceasingly against injustices, discriminations, and all imposed inequities.”

Like other Black papers of the era, the Spokesman and the Recorder were filled with local and national news, entertainment, social and church affairs, and other content of interest to African Americans. The early version included a gossip column called “Inquisitive Sal,” comics and cartoons drawn by Black artists, sports coverage, and classified ads aimed at African Americans.

Newman also saw speaking to white readers—and white advertisers—as important to furthering equity and inclusion. The Spokesman and the Recorder became training grounds for Black leaders and literary luminaries like Era Bell Thompson, Gordon Parks, and Carl Rowan.

Newman’s pledge to utilize the printing press as a clarion for civil rights led to a confrontation with the local beer industry. The 1933 repeal of Prohibition had led to growth for Minnesota’s brewers, and the Spokesman charged that despite the expansion of jobs, these breweries refused to employ a single African American. Newman called for a boycott of local breweries, including Hamm’s and Gluek’s, in the spring of 1935. The effective campaign featured opinion pieces from Newman and front-page editorial cartoons ridiculing the brewers.

During World War II, Newman successfully fought for African American access to jobs at local munitions plants, including the Twin Cities Army Ammunition Plant (TCAAP). Two decades later he would push the owner of the newly arrived Minnesota Twins to desegregate spring training lodgings.

Newman’s close connection with Minneapolis Mayor Hubert Humphrey began a decades-long alliance with the statesman. When Humphrey and Lyndon Johnson won the White House in 1964, there was an opportunity for Newman to join his old friend on the national stage, according to Newman’s granddaughter Tracy Dillard Williams. However, he demurred, choosing to stay in South Minneapolis and continue his journalistic and civic leadership in Minnesota, where he gained membership to several fraternal, civic, Civil Rights, and business leadership organizations.

Newman’s network wasn’t limited to the Democratic Farmer-Labor Party (DFL). In his lifetime he claimed a connection to every Minnesota governor since the 1920s. He was also close to moderate, business-minded Republicans like Wheelock Whitney Jr., to the chagrin of some progressives in the Black community. In the late 1960s, a rock was thrown through the window of the Spokesman building, allegedly by Black radicals who saw Newman as out of touch (according to reports of the incident).

While observing the rise of new and more radical leadership in the Civil Rights movement, and now in his later years, Newman receded into the background of civic and civil rights activity. He died in February of 1976. Activist, youth worker, and community leader Spike Moss eulogized the late publisher with the simple, powerful affirmation, “Cecil Soldiered.”

Following the leadership of Newman’s widow, Launa Newman, Newman’s granddaughter Tracy Williams-Dillard took the helm of the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder, and it was among a dwindling number of historic Black newspapers that survived into the 2020s. With his decades of journalism, his legacy as one of Minnesota’s great civic and Civil Rights leaders, Cecil Newman could be called, like his paper, Spokesman.

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“Cecil Newman.” People Worth Hearing About. Minnesota School of the Air, WLB/KUOM, Minneapolis, April 6, 1972.
https://archives.lib.umn.edu/repositories/14/archival_objects/1023282

“Cecil E. Newman: A Strong Black Leader.” MinneHistory. KFAI, Minneapolis, 2015.
http://ampers.org/mn-art-culture-history/cecil-e-newman-a-strong-black-leader

“Cecil E. Newman, Headed Black Weekly.” New York Times, February 8, 1976.

Coleman, Milton. “Cecil Newman: A Spirit of Patient Civility.” Minneapolis Star, February 11,1976.

Glanton, Wayne. Interview with the author, 2015.

Henehan, Brendan. "Minnesota Black Newspaper Index." Unpublished manuscript, last modified 2002. Minnesota Historical Society.
http://www.mnhs.org/duluthlynchings/resources/blacknewspaperindex.pdf

Leipold, L. Edmond. Cecil E. Newman, Newspaper Publisher. Men of Achievement Series. Minneapolis: T. S. Denison, 1969.

Mikus, Matt. “‘Super Cool’: Minnesota’s Oldest Black-owned Newspaper Puts Its Archive Online.” MPR News, May 30, 2021.
https://www.mprnews.org/story/2021/05/30/minnesotas-oldest-blackowned-newspaper-puts-its-archive-online

Minneapolis Spokesman. Minnesota Digital Newspaper Hub, Minnesota Historical Society.
https://newspapers.mnhs.org/jsp/browse.jsp?collection_filter=6ff34a0f-54f7-4bc3-861a-d07acb7dba65

“MSR Building Now a Historic Minnesota Landmark.” MSR News Online, November 23, 2015.
https://spokesman-recorder.com/2015/11/23/msr-building-now-historic-minnesota-landmark

Nathanson, Iric. “Spokesman for the Community: Cecil Newman and His Legacy of African American Journalism.” Hennepin History 69, no. 3 (Fall 2010): 4–21.
https://digitalcollections.hclib.org/digital/collection/p17208coll13/id/2354

“Rocks Hit Window of Newspaper.” Minneapolis Star, August 31,1964.

St. Paul Recorder. Minnesota Digital Newspaper Hub, Minnesota Historical Society.
https://newspapers.mnhs.org/jsp/browse.jsp?collection_filter=578670e0-fcaf-4562-a166-28850a1922dd

“Twins Work to End Bias at Training Site.” Minneapolis Star, January 31, 1963.

“Why Was It Necessary to Handcuff Kline?” Minneapolis Star, August 13,1960.

Williams-Dillard, Tracy. Interview with the author, 2015.

Related Images

Cecil Newman
Cecil Newman
Cecil Newman at his desk
Cecil Newman at his desk
Harold W. Greenwood and Cecil Newman
Harold W. Greenwood and Cecil Newman
Cecil Newman and his family with Minnesota Governor Karl Rolvaag
Cecil Newman and his family with Minnesota Governor Karl Rolvaag

Turning Point

In 1958 Newman works with with Black construction pioneer Wayne Glanton to build a new home for the Minneapolis Spokesman and the St. Paul Recorder on Fourth Avenue and Thirty-Eighth Street, at the heart of the Black community in South Minneapolis. Despite initial cost overruns, this simple structure offers financial stability that supports the paper’s staying power. The plant draws visitors from near and stands as a beacon of Black possibilities.

Chronology

1903

Cecil Newman is born in Kansas City, Missouri.

1922

Cecil Newman arrives in Minneapolis.

1927

Twenty-four-year-old Newman begins editing the Twin Cities Herald.

1934

Newman publishes the first editions of the Minneapolis Spokesman and the St. Paul Recorder.

1943

Newman’s lobbying leads to a considerable increase in employment of African Americans at the Twin Cities Army Ammunition Plant (TCAAP) in New Brighton.

1945

Newman meets with mayoral candidate Hubert Humphrey, and the two forge a bond over Civil Rights work and Humphrey’s political future.

1948

Newman becomes president of the Minneapolis Urban League.

1949

Newman’s protégé Carl Rowan becomes the first African American columnist at what would become the Minneapolis Star (a forerunner of the Star Tribune).

1965

Newman marries Launa Jackman.

1967

Newman joins Vice President Humphrey on a tour of Africa.

1968

Newman and two others become the first African Americans to belong to the elite Minneapolis Club.

1973

The National Conference of Christians and Jews presents Newman with its Brotherhood Award.

1976

Newman dies at his home in Minneapolis.

2000

The Minneapolis Spokesman merges with the St. Paul Recorder to become the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.

2015

On November 15, the Minneapolis City Council designates the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder building (3744 Fourth Avenue South) a historic landmark.