1925: A vital new voice joins the New Orleans media landscape
In New Orleans’ first two centuries, several newspapers covering the city’s African-American community had come and gone, failing to take root in one of the most diverse metropolises in the country. That changed in 1925, when Constant Charles Dejoie Sr. and business partner O.C.W. Taylor established The Louisiana Weekly. With offices in the local Pythian Temple at Loyola Avenue and Gravier Street, the Weekly quickly became the state’s authority on and voice for a disenfranchised African-American populace, battling tooth and nail for justice and equality.
The Louisiana Weekly is still in operation, with ownership remaining in the Dejoie family and the editorship resting with Renette Dejoie-Hall, a granddaughter of C.C. Dejoie Sr. who also serves as president and publisher. It now boasts a circulation of roughly 6,500 and employs the motto, “Your Multicultural News Medium.” Although 2005’s Hurricane Katrina temporarily halted production of the print version and forced Dejoie-Hall to operate for a time out of Houston, it pushed the paper to launch its online version, which continued to cover the effects of Katrina on the local black population. The paper’s current digs are in Gentilly, on Pelopidas Street.
- The newspaper was initially dubbed the New Orleans Herald but was within weeks rebranded the Louisiana Weekly.
- It didn’t take long for the Weekly to soar into public consciousness. Charging $2 for an annual subscription, by the end of October 1925, the paper had already amassed a reported circulation of 4,500.
- One of the most surreal moments in the history of the Louisiana Weekly came shortly after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in November 1963, when the accused killer, Lee Harvey Oswald, listed one of his past addresses of employment as 640 Rampart St. in New Orleans. At the time, the Weekly’s offices were located at 640 S. Rampart, but C.C. Dejoie Jr., then the editor of the paper, said the publication had found no record of Oswald working there. Authorities subsequently theorized that Oswald might very well have pulled the address out of thin air.
- One of the most honored alumni of the Louisiana Weekly was reporter/editor John E. Rousseau, who won multiple awards from the National Newspaper Publishers Association, as well as earning a Pulitzer nomination for his efforts in New Orleans. Arguably his most recognized work was his investigation of and reportage on the cases of Edgar Labat and Clifton Poret, two black men who were wrongly convicted of raping a white woman and spent 14 years on death row before being exonerated, thanks partially to Rousseau’s legwork.
- During its history, the Louisiana Weekly has squared off against challenger publications such as the New Orleans Sentinel, which was co-founded by Rousseau as a more left-leaning alternative but which lasted only a few years in the early 1940s; and the Sepia Socialite, published by Nathaniel Williams and which ran from 1937 to 1945.
- The first offices of the Louisiana Weekly opened at Room 303 of the New Orleans Knights of Pythias building — also known as the Pythian Temple — located at what was then the corner of Gravier and Saratoga streets. The Pythians celebrated the laying of the building’s cornerstone on June 4, 1908, with numerous parades, parades, speeches and meetings.
- In 1927, the Louisiana Weekly installed a new, $25,000 printing press in a specially constructed building, with newspaper leadership asserting that all of the press’ workers would be African-American. Before that, the publication was printed by a white-owned company.
- In July 1932, the Louisiana Weekly joined the Southern Newspaper Syndicate, at the time a rapidly expanding and increasingly influential national wire service and ownership chain of black newspapers. Although the Dejoie family retained ownership of the paper, the Weekly became the SNS’ seventh member.
- In 1956, The Times-Picayune’s legendary, longtime sports editor and columnist Bill Keefe, who frequently criticized the integration process, learned firsthand about the Weekly’s influence and reach when he called Jackie Robinson a “persistently insolent and antagonistic trouble-making Negro” who should have been “muzzled long ago.” Robinson fired back with a pointed letter to Keefe that was subsequently published in the Louisiana Weekly. Wrote Robinson: “Am I insolent, or am I merely insolent for a Negro (who has courage enough to speak against injustice such as yours and people like you)?”
- In his 2015 book, “Defying Jim Crow: African American Community Development and the Struggle for Racial Equality in New Orleans, 1900-1960,” author Donald E. DeVore gushed that historically, the Weekly “remained steadfast and true to its stated aims, usually echoing the sentiments of the black community and helping to define vital issues. More than an organ of race chauvinism, it printed articles and editorials that challenged Jim Crow in its many manifestations. … The publisher, journalists, and editors of the Louisiana Weekly never forgot that fact and, by highlighting the realities of life under Jim Crow, built and maintained strong support throughout the entire community.”
- A 1974 thesis by Tulane student Craig Pearlman scrutinized the paper’s coverage of the infamous 1931 Scottsboro trials of nine African-American teens who were unjustly convicted in Alabama of raping two white girls on a train. In his thesis, Pearlman wrote: “No matter how controversial the news might be, the Louisiana Weekly refused to compromise or to be intimidated.”
- The Louisiana Weekly’s first official sports editor was Eddie Burbridge, who doubled as a music and entertainment columnist. Burbridge’s blanket coverage of Louisiana black sports extended across the state, focusing on area Historically Black Colleges and Universities, the Negro Leagues and boxing, the latter of which he chronicled in a regular column called, “The Gong.” Burbridge eventually departed the Crescent City to take over as sports editor at another African-American newspaper, the Los Angeles Sentinel.
- One of the inheritors of Burbridge’s coverage of Louisiana black sports was Jim Hall, a Sheffield, Ala., native who helmed the Weekly’s sports desk for 28 years. As one of the few African-American reporters covering the National Football League and its new franchise, the New Orleans Saints, Hall — who earned the sobriquet “Big Jim” — earned numerous awards and commendations and even served as a consultant for the Saints.
Louisiana Weekly co-founder C.C. Dejoie’s son, C.C. Dejoie Jr., once said in a 1974 interview, “We print it like we see it.” That was no small thing when the newspaper was founded, amid the Jim Crow era and at a time in which New Orleans’ black community was largely ignored by the local press. Throughout its long history, the Weekly has consistently received kudos from other newspapers and publications not only in Louisiana, but across the country. In April 1930, the revered Pittsburgh Courier stated that “the 120,000 Negroes in New Orleans and the more than 500,000 in the state of Louisiana have a strong and upstanding mouthpiece in the Louisiana Weekly.”