The Call (Kansas City)
Kansas City The Call, or The Call is an African-American newspaper founded in 1919 by Chester A. Franklin. It serves the black community of Kansas City, Missouri and Kansas City, Kansas. Before 1827 when the African American newspaper Freedom’s Journal was published there was no journalistic source for African Americans to refer to for getting a sense of pride in their community and understanding current events in their own lives, and there especially were no means of empowerment for the black community to be found within popular publications owned and operated by whites. Since 1827 the black press has existed, but it proved very difficult to keep these outlets afloat for more than a couple of years due to the target audience (educated free blacks) being too small to financially support the papers as well as not receiving funding to make them successful. In addition, many of these papers were solely aimed towards blacks in the South and largely ignored Northerners. That is why Kansas City’s The Call is so impressive. Founded in 1919 by C.A. Franklin, The Call is still in existence today, celebrating its 84th anniversary, and is known as one of the top six African American weeklies in the nation.
Chester Arthur Franklin (1880–1955) founded The Call newspaper in May 1919. It was owned and operated by him until his death on May 7, 1955. Chester Franklin was born on June 7, 1880 as the only child of George F. Franklin, a barber, and Clara Belle Williams Franklin, a teacher. He was born at the time when African Americans were moving out of Texas in search of better educational opportunities for their children. His family later moved to Omaha and eventually to Denver where he worked for his father who owned local newspapers in both cities. Eventually Chester took over Denver’s The Star for his father- he printed, edited, and distributed the paper until 1913 when he decided to move to Kansas City. During this time Kansas City had a growing African American presence and he hoped he could start up a paper and have a larger audience within Kansas and Missouri. Upon his arrival, Franklin set up his own printing shop moved around the city a few times until he finally decided he would begin publishing his own paper. With his mother by his side, he launched The Call and sold copies for 5 cents with his mother peddling subscriptions door to door. Franklin had to completely teach himself how to use the Linotype machine because white union workers were not allowed to assist blacks. Despite the first couple years being rough, Franklin eventually learned the tricks of the trade and The Call became one of the six largest African American weeklies in the country and one of the largest black businesses in the Midwest. “During its first eight years, The Call grew steadily from a circulation of about 2,000 in 1919 to 16,737 in 1927, and then remained at that level until the late 1930s”. The newspaper employed (and still employs) many African Americans in the Kansas City community.
C.A. Franklin’s vision was to have a paper free of sensationalism that empowered and gave a voice to the black community. Franklin was a strong advocate for self-reliance within the community, siding strongly with the philosophies of W.E.B. Dubois. The Call includes announcements like graduations and graduates, deaths, memorials, and community events within surrounding areas as Franklin was encouraging of his readers to inform him of any goings-on and they would be published in the paper. This gave the black community a sense of importance as well as participation. There are also plenty of advertisements for black businesses, encouraging people to patronize only places where they are welcome. Local and national news editorials are featured, stories that the white press would either ignore or report on with bias. Police reports and crimes are included, something that briefly caused an uproar among some readers who were sick of reading only negative aspects of the African American community. The Call received letters urging these stories to be replaced with more positive ones. Franklin’s response to this was that “the press is to publish, not suppress news…”. There was a strong religious aspect associated within The Call, something that is still present in current issues. There are features and advertisements for pastors and church events and potlucks, as these serve as an important part of uniting the community and focusing on positive aspects.
For 84 years The Call has addressed many civil rights issues plaguing the African American community of Kansas City, the Midwest, and America as a whole. One example of this is Franklin urging blacks to vote. Another example is The Call’s protest of the urban development in inner Kansas City designed to keep blacks segregated from the whites, who were beginning to move into suburban developments in the 50’s and 60’s. The paper condemned the building of projects which displaced many and encouraged segregation as well as critiques of the Housing Authority for their policies and the gentrification of black neighborhoods. Another issue was mentioned earlier, one that Lucile Bluford took on personally, and that is the issue of separate but equal in education (especially the case of Lloyd Gaines). Bluford and Gaines were both rejected from furthering their education based on the color of their skin, and both Bluford and Franklin used The Call as a platform for defending their cause- including encouraging readers to donate to the NAACP. The Call provides empowerment and the avocation of self-reliance to better the success of the African American community.
The Call has bragging rights to some famous alumni. One of these is Roy Wilkins, a reporter and managing editor from 1923-1931 who later wrote for The Crisis and an administrator to the NAACP, who also was influential in the passage of many acts including the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Fair Housing Act of 1968.
Another is Lucile Bluford, who was a KU alum as well as a reporter and managing editor for The Call. She was a staunch opponent of segregation, suing the University of Missouri for discriminating against her. After C.A. Franklin died in 1955, Bluford became part-owner and the head of The Call and remained so until her death in 2003.
The Call has two offices, with the original being in the 18th & Vine District at 1715 East 18th Street in Kansas City, Missouri and the other one being at 2730 North 13th Street in Kansas City, Kansas. New issues are distributed weekly either online or via merchants.
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- Gann, Dustin Malone; et al. (31 May 2012). "Written in Black and White: Creating an Ideal America, 1910-1970". University of Kansas: 71. Retrieved 29 April 2013.
- "The History of the Kansas City Call". Black Archives of Mid-America. Retrieved 29 April 2013.
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- "Lucile H Bluford". Kansas City Public Library. Lucile H Bluford Branch. Retrieved 29 April 2013.
- Kansas City Call Official Website
- Chester Arthur Franklin Biography
- The History of the Kansas City Call