By Stacy M. Brown
NNPA Newswire Senior National Correspondent
SACRAMENTO, CA – In a dazzling yet elegant celebration, the Sacramento Observer, a beacon of the Black Press, commemorated its 60th anniversary, bringing together community leaders, supporters, and acclaimed artists. The event, held at the landmark Sacramento Memorial Auditorium in California’s capital city, not only honored the historical significance of the Observer but also highlighted its enduring relevance in today’s dynamic media landscape. The Observer enjoys as rich a history as any other newspaper – Black, or white-owned. It began with the vision of its founders, Dr. Bill and Kathryn Lee. In 1963, the couple embarked on a mission to establish a publication serving as a voice for the Black community in Sacramento. From its humble beginnings, the Observer rapidly evolved, becoming one of the fastest-growing publications in the history of African-American journalism.
Larry Lee, the impassioned publisher who took over the newspaper after his father died in 2019, emotionally absorbed the significance of the celebration. “I think the celebration was a wonderful example of how we should honor an institution as important as any,” Lee stated. He underscored the power of vividly illustrating the historical importance of the Observer through various mediums, including a 100-page book, videos, and testimonials. Lee emphasized the Observer’s and the Black Press’s commitment to serving communities that often are underserved by mainstream media. “I was born in the Black Press, and I’m going to die in the Black Press,” Lee declared. “The National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) represents that to me. I love NNPA, and I love the Black Press.”
The NNPA is the trade association of more than 230 African-American-owned newspapers and media companies in the United States. The Observer is a proud member of the NNPA. Reflecting on the event’s success, Lee acknowledged the support from leaders in the community, corporate entities, philanthropic organizations, and partners like the Google News Initiative. He credited the months of planning, relationship-building, and collaboration with supporters for executing the celebration in a way that paid homage to the Observer’s legacy. Attendees echoed Lee’s sentiments, many of whom expressed how pleased Bill and Kathryn Lee, the late founders, would have been. “My father would have said this event was as good as anything that we’d ever done. He would have been proud,” Larry Lee stated.
Frank McComb, a world-renowned soul jazz recording artist who graced the event with a stirring performance of a bevy of jazzy tunes, shared his honor in being part of the celebration. “To be called to such an event, I feel honored because of the history,” he said. McComb emphasized the importance of having a vision, not just a dream, drawing inspiration from the Observer’s founder, who had a vision leading to this influential institution’s establishment. California Secretary of State Shirley Weber, the first African American to serve in that role, praised the Observer’s impact. “The Observer has meant so much not only to the city of Sacramento but to the state,” Weber said during a pre-event cocktail party. She recognized the publication’s role in highlighting the community’s greatness and the state of California. “The love and trust we all have in the Observer is unmatched,” she stated.
The celebration included the presentation of the Observer’s 60th-anniversary Living Legacy Awards to individuals who have made significant contributions to the community. Among the recipients were Weber, Margaret Fortune, Chet Hewitt, and Bishop Parnell Lovelace Jr. The Color of Music Orchestra, which celebrates Black classical composers and performers, backed McCombs during the evening and opened the night with a stirring rendition of “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” Adrienne Bankert, an award-winning national news anchor, served as the Mistress of Ceremonies, and Rev. Mark Meeks of the City Church provided the benediction. The event also included an invocation by Pastor Tamara Bennett and a Native American Land Acknowledgment by Albert Titman Sr. of Miwuk, Nisenan.
Earlier this year the Observer won the 2023 National Newspaper Publishers Association’s Newspaper of the Year, with Larry Lee earning Publisher of the Year honors. NNPA President and CEO, Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr., Washington Informer Publisher Denise Rolark Barnes, Wave Newspapers CEO Pluria Marshall Jr., and the NNPA’s Let It Be Known morning show team, including Producer Greer Marshall and digital stars Dawn Montgomery and “Totally Randie,” were among those representing the Black Press. “The celebration … the evening, set the bar for all of the Black Press,” Dr. Chavis proclaimed.