New Boston weekly comes under fire after taking name of former African-American newspaper

The Guardian / Newspaper started by William Monroe Trotter / This issue dated August 30 1902
The Guardian, A Boston newspaper founded by William Monroe Trotter. This issue is dated August 30, 1902. –The Guardian August 1902

A new Boston weekly’s name came under fire after it published its first issue last week.

David Jacobs, publisher of the now defunct Boston Courant, launched a new print-only weekly last week called The Boston Guardian. The name may sound familiar to some, as it graced the masthead of a Boston-based African-American paper for the first half of the 20th century.

Melvin Miller, the editor and publisher of The Bay State Banner, published a scathing op-ed Monday on the heels of the Guardian‘s first weekly issue, calling on the weekly’s publisher to select “a more appropriate name” for his new publication.

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“The publisher of the Boston Courant has brazenly decided to call his weekly ‘The Boston Guardian,’ a name that is sacrosanct in Boston’s African American Community,” Miller wrote. “Yet, there is no journalistic achievement of the Boston Courant to warrant the appropriation of such an historic appellation.”

The original Guardian was founded in 1901 by William Monroe Trotter. It served Boston’s African-American community for half a century, covering civil rights issues and filling the void in the news cycle that publications like The Boston Globe, Boston Herald, and Boston Post created by failing to cover the city’s minority population.

journalists101 William Monroe Trotter, editor and founder of the first important Black weekly newspaper in Boston - "The Guardian." Photo courtesy of Joseph Nelson.
William Monroe Trotter, editor and founder of The Guardian.Photo courtesy of Joseph Nelson. —Photo courtesy Joseph Nelson / The Boston Globe

“The prospect of that name being sullied is offensive to those who have had to contend with so much for their equality over the years,” Miller wrote. “The Publisher of the now defunct Boston Courant can certainly select a more appropriate name from the city’s rich newspaper row history.”

But Jacobs said using the name choice the Guardian was a personal one. When he launched the Boston Courant, originally the Back Bay Courant, in 1995, he pulled the name from one of the country’s oldest papers, The New England Courant, founded by James Franklin, Ben Franklin’s older brother, prior to the Revolutionary War. He said his wife, Gen Tracy, is a descendant of James Franklin, and she wanted to bring the historic name back through their new publication.

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“So, because of that lineage, and in order to stay happily married to my wife, I thought Courant was an ideal name,” Jacobs told Boston.com. After the Boston Courant ceased publication in February following a wrongful termination suit, Jacobs and Tracy decided to start up a new publication and began researching the names of old newspapers. Again, Tracy liked the name The Boston Guardian, and the two discovered that the original Boston Courant, also an African American newspaper published in the late 1800s and founded by George Washington Forbes, had rolled its resources in to The Boston Guardian after it shuttered in 1897.

The parallels of each situation, he said, were too uncanny to go unnoticed.

“We don’t believe in coincidence,” Jacobs said. “My wife loved the name, and it paralleled the evolution of our publishing career. That was too close to us.”

As for Miller’s op-ed, Jacobs was surprised that the Bay State Banner didn’t reach out to him for comment or context surrounding the name choice, and hadn’t heard any opposition to the name until reading the op-ed.

“They practice journalism differently than I do,” Jacobs said. “We demand that our reporters understand the issues, both sides, sometimes more than two sides, as we all know, to reach out, to get comment from those people involved in the story.”

Miller declined to comment.

 

 

 

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