They ranged in age from 13 to 86 and represented a cross section of Baltimore—politicians, doctors, lawyers, business owners, educators and at least one student. They came from around the region, accompanied by their spouses, children and other loved ones, dozens of men and women who worked over the years as paperboys and papergirls for the AFRO American Newspapers.
Over bacon, eggs, grits and waffles, the paperboys and papergirls were heralded for their service to the Baltimore-based news organization in a ceremony July 28 at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum in Baltimore. The event was one of a series of celebrations being held this year to commemorate the AFRO American Newspapers’ 120th anniversary.
AFRO Publisher Jake Oliver told the audience that people who heard them will never forget the paperboys’ and papergirls’ chants of “Eddie-O-Afro!” as they converged on the streets of Baltimore and other cities to deliver the news pertinent to African Americans.
“We are standing on the shoulders of the people who preceded us and the paperboys and papergirls…were the legs that created the foundation for the business of the AFRO,” Oliver told the audience.
Among the paperboys and papergirls were Congressman Elijah Cummings, who delivered the AFRO from 1960 to 1964 and former NAACP president and congressman Kweisi Mfume, who worked as a paperboy from 1961 to 1965. Both men delivered the newspaper in Baltimore.
Mfume said he is still an avid reader, “hard copy and online” He said he grew up seeing older children in the neighborhood sell the AFRO, so he always aspired to do the job.
“I saw them having the opportunity to earn money to give some back to their parents and have some for themselves,” he said. “For me, it was always assumed that when I got to a certain age I would sell the newspaper and the newspaper that I would sell would be the AFRO.”
Mfume said he does not recall how much he earned, but he does remember how it was earmarked. “I kept half and gave the other half to my mother,” he said. “I was raised to do that. I was the oldest child and that’s just something you did.”
Dr. Theodore Patterson, who delivered the AFRO from 1940 to 1946, said he has fond memories of his years as a young businessman.
"The Paperboy Breakfast helped bring back memories on how the AFRO impacted my life,” he said. “[My time as a paper boy] was a unique experience…The AFRO was always a big family...It got me on my way in terms of earning money and learning what to do with it."
Patterson recalled the sense of accomplishment delivering the paper gave him. “I lived in company housing in Sparrows Point and they only had two streets for Black people and five blocks on each street,” he said. “There were ten blocks in total. So I had a challenge to sell enough AFROs to make it worthwhile for the delivery man to come all the way down from Baltimore City. I served the Tuesday AFRO and the Friday AFRO."
People who attended the breakfast shared stories, laughter and some tears as they recalled their days with the canvas bag emblazoned with giant letters spelling out AFRO slung over their shoulder.
They delivered the news that the nation had entered World War II and that a 14-year-old boy named Emmett Till had been murdered in Money, Mississippi, for speaking to a white woman. They delivered the news that first John F. Kennedy, then Malcolm X and later Martin Luther King Jr. had been assassinated. They delivered the news that the nation’s first Black president, Barrack Osama, had been elected four years ago.
They learned about the world from the newspaper they delivered, said E. Lloyd Davis, 85, who delivered the AFRO from 1935, when he was 10, until he left for then Morgan College at age 18.
“I learned a lot from the AFRO,”said Davis, who later lived in 20 countries, including West Africa, El Salvador and Cuba, as a member of the U.S. Foreign Service.
“Some of the people that were your customers regularly talked about what was in the paper. Occasionally, they would say, ‘Did you see the article on so and so in the AFRO? You should read it.’ Sure enough, you would take a look and it was interesting. When you went back, they would ask you if you had read it. Then they might ask you a question, so you had to prove what you had learned. The AFRO was part of the community helping to educate children.”
Editor Gregory Dale contributed to this report.