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In 1966, Charles City County was the kind of place that big city newspapers found easy to overlook. Entirely rural, with an estimated population of 6,000, most of whom were Black, the county itself seems never to have had a newspaper of its own.1 The Tidewater Review, published in West Point, had covered King William, King and Queen, New Kent and Charles City counties since 1928.

Into this gap came the Charles City Times, a short-lived but vibrant newspaper published and edited by a team of three young Black men. Thanks to the Richard M. Bowman Center for Local History in Charles City, which loaned the Library of Virginia the sixth and final issue of the Charles City Times, there is now a complete collection available on the Library of Virginia’s digital newspaper database, Virginia Chronicle.  All three men who ran the short-lived paper had grown up in the county, going to segregated schools before leaving to pursue higher education. According to their introductions in the first issue of the paper, George W. Wallace had just received a Master’s degree in business administration from Columbia University and had started an accounting job in New York City. Renard Charity had recently graduated from Virginia Union University with a degree in biology, and Kenneth Christian was finishing up a degree in business administration at Virginia State College (now University).

From the pages of the paper, it is evident that some of their goals were to encourage civic participation by the Black citizens of Charles City county, especially in voting; to draw attention to inconsistencies and injustice in local government; and to note achievements, news, and events by and for the Black community. In a video titled George Wallace Speaking of Charles City Times, he further described their vision of the paper as a “counterpoint platform.”3

In one or two unsigned editorials in every issue, residents expressed their frustration and impatience with the slow pace of change, particularly in school desegregation, though the county had begun token integration of students in 1963 through Virginia’s so-called “freedom of choice” plan.4 While noting in the first issue that integration had begun with the county’s first Black man “in modern times” serving on the school board, the editors in the same issue exposed the county’s use of taxpayer funds to defend the school board against an unnamed integration suit brought by the NAACP (most likely Bowman v County School Board of Charles City County).5

“Legal expenses contained in the May county budget was [sic] approximately $1,450. And it has been estimated that total legal expenses may reach $14,000 at a minimum,” the paper reported. The article closed with some editorializing:

“In defending the integration suit, which would have been unnecessary had the county officials voluntarily integrated the school system, the county officials have spent money which could have been used to serve residents of the county much more effectively, according to some of the taxpayers of the county.”6

Although schools were at the forefront of the editors’ minds, they were alert to other areas of inequity as well. An editorial in the second issue recounted an editor’s attempt to access some public records at the county courthouse. He claimed that he was denied access to certain minutes from a Board of Supervisors meeting, with the county clerk saying he was “not ‘sure’ if he could let the editor see the records.” Yet shortly after that exchange, “two persons of the counties [sic] minority race entered into the clerk’s office and asked permission to use the minutes…A secretary in the clerk’s office indicated…she would be able to type data from the minutes” for them. The writer of the editorial accused the county clerk of being either dishonest or unqualified. He concluded, “it is the opinion of the editors the voters have the responsibility to assure these persons are not re-elected to public offices.”7

In the following issue, county resident C. Fletcher Bowman expressed disagreement with the editorial in a letter to the editor.

“I believe, and many I have communicated with believe, that your heading of this article was a little misleading (though I do not believe you meant it to be). May I remind you that there are many ways of taking a mountain other than by direct assault… Above all, with our dealings, lets be tackful [sic], though sometimes others are not.”8

Bowman, who also served as the paper’s photographer, chose to use the public forum of the Charles City Times’ pages to engage in a strategic discussion. Although he doesn’t specify what metaphorical mountain he wants to take, it is interesting that he frames his point by referring to a broader conversation (“many I have communicated with”) about the best way to achieve certain goals.

C. Fletcher's Photo Shoppe Advertisement

Charles City Times, July 28, 1966, page 2.

In the next issue, a lengthy editorial titled “Good Race Relations” disagrees with the letter writer’s admonition to use tact in “dealing with problems involving people of opposite races.” The editors describe this approach to race relations as a Southern stereotype that required

“nice discernment as to what is fitting or expedient in dealings with the opposite race so as to win good-will or to avoid giving offense.” Instead, the editors asserted that it was not necessary to use “nice phrases in describing conditions in the county which he finds detestable.”

The editors also refer to the belief of “an elderly person,” retired from a county government appointment, that school segregation, or perhaps token integration, will maintain good race relations. Reasserting views they had explained in previous issues of the paper, the editors insist that

“one of the best ways of moving toward good race relations is to create more interaction among the races so that each race may come to realize that the opposite race is also human…We feel that one of the best methods of doing this is a completely integrated one-school system now.”

The editors seem comfortable with disagreement as the price of progress. In the process of improving race relations, “offence will be given. But is it better to have one or two offended individuals or to have a society in which people are willing to take a stand on issues which will lead to the betterment of society?”9 We don’t know if some county residents were offended by the editors’ opinions, but the very existence of the Charles City Times furthered public discussion of matters important to the county’s Black residents. In addition to the weighty issues of the day, the paper also covered topics such as infrastructure, community groups, sports, and farming. Local ads show small businesses ready to serve the primarily Black readership.

Even though the Charles City Times ceased publication after its sixth issue, released on 7 February, 1967, it is an important part of the Library of Virginia’s newspaper collection. As a rare example of a Black-published newspaper serving a rural county, it preserves the ideas, organizations, milestones, and other events important to people not often covered in urban and/or White-published newspapers.

Further, it fills in the history of school desegregation in Virginia outside of typical sources such as legal documents or school system-generated information. Finally, as we’ve seen here, it provides a clear example of newspapers as a public forum by including and responding to letters to the editor. Visit Virginia Chronicle, the Library of Virginia’s freely accessible digital newspaper archive, to explore the Charles City Times.

Angela Lehman

Former Virginia Newspaper Project Intern

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