A century is a long time in any business—doubly so in publishing. But that’s the milestone soon to be celebrated by The Call, the newspaper of record for Kansas City’s black community.
The first edition of The Call rolled off the presses on May 6, 1919. Those presses were run by founder and longtime publisher Chester Arthur Franklin, since the all-white printers’ union forbade members from helping him. The Call’s current publisher is Donna F. Stewart, who has been with the paper since May 1977. She started there as a reporter two weeks after she graduated from Lincoln University in Jefferson City. “And, like a fool, I’ve been here the whole time since,” she says.
As she approaches 42 years in the newsroom in a stately building at 18th Street and Woodland Avenue, Stewart attributes her longevity to her ability to “stay focused and not pay too much attention to the foolishness around me.”
The Call publishes every Friday and can be purchased for $1 at shops like CVS, QuikTrip and Hy-Vee. Recent editions feature stories about the struggles of the oldest historically black college in the country, illegal dumping on vacant lots and the tenants’ rights movement currently roiling the city.
It’s the same kind of highly relevant reporting that The Call has had for a century now. In 1945, The Call reported on Jackie Robinson during his rookie season as a ballplayer with the Monarchs of the Negro Leagues. Two decades later, the paper reported on the civil uprising that followed the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968.
Notable former staffers included civil rights activist Roy Wilkins, who was an editor of The Call before leaving to work at the NAACP, which he led beginning in 1964, and former owner Lucile Bluford, who worked at the paper for 71 years until her death in 2003. Bluford successfully sued to desegregate the University of Missouri’s journalism graduate school in 1939, only to see the program shuttered before she could attend. Fifty years later, she received an honorary doctorate.