Donald V. Watkins
The New Herald: This is Who We Were
Updated: Jul 16, 2021
By: Donald V. Watkins
Copyrighted and Published on July 15, 2021
In March 1935, my father, Dr. Levi Watkins, Sr., co-founded and published the first edition of The New Herald, a weekly newspaper for Clarksville, Tennessee's African-American community. The newspaper's other co-founders were Charles D. Wells, Jr., who served as its Editor, and Anna A. Evans, who served as its Society Editor. My father served as Associate Editor of The New Herald, which sold for 10 cents per issue.
The New Herald was founded during the midst of the Great Depression of 1929, which continued until the early 1940s. At the time, my father, a Clarksville native and graduate of Tennessee State University for Negroes, was a science and math teacher who lost his teaching job in Kentucky over the Christmas holidays during the 1934-35 academic year. He and other Tennessee-based Negro teachers were replaced with black educators who were Kentucky residents.
Showcasing Excellence in the Lives of African-Americans
The May 25, 1935 "Commencement Souvenir Edition" of The New Herald is featured in this article. It was the 11th issue of the newspaper during its inaugural year.
Four things struck me about this black-owned and operated newspaper. First, it presented African-Americans in Clarksville in a very positive light at a time when blacks in the South were routinely lynched, terrorized, characterized as "niggers" and "coons" by white-owned newspapers in the South, and were harshly discriminated against under Jim Crow racial segregation laws across the South.
All of the blacks featured in The New Herald, whether medical and dental surgeons, ministers, businessmen and women, students, teachers, or ordinary black citizens, were impeccably dressed and took pride in their appearance and professionalism. They were men and women who embodied self-esteem, self-confidence, self-pride, and substantial accomplishments, despite the Great Depression and hardcore racial discrimination and subjugation that engulfed them.
Second, The New Herald showcased a diverse black business class in Clarksville in 1935. The advertisers in this edition of the newspaper included: (a) an electrical services company, (b) three shoe stores, (c) a gas station owner, (d) a barber shop, (e) two dine-in cafes, (f) three general merchandise department stores, (g) two full-service grocery stores, (h) two funeral homes, (i) a beer garden, (j) a jewelry store, and (k) three dry cleaners. The Clarksville Burial Association, which was one of the advertisers in the edition of the newspaper, took pride in announcing that it was "Solely Sponsored and Operated By Negroes."
Third, The New Herald published Legal Notices" from the Montgomery County, Tennessee Circuit Court. The newspaper also announced the "Watkins-Trice Nuptials, " which was the marriage of Mary Arzela Watkins, who was my father's sister, to Robert H. Trice, who was a social science teacher at Burt High School for Colored Students. The marriage took place in November 1934 in Cadiz, Kentucky. Aunt Mary was a senior student at Kentucky State College at the time of her marriage to Uncle Bob.
Fourth, the newspaper featured Rev. H. P. Hawkins' baccalaureate speech to the 1935 graduating class of famed Burt High School in Clarksville in which he challenged the graduates to launch out into the deep ... socially, economically, and spiritually ... [to] make progress for the [black] Race." Burt High School was named after the eminent Surgeon Chief and owner of Home Infirmary, a private hospital for Negroes in the Clarksville area. The hospital's staff included Dr. William Eugene Pannell, its Resident Surgeon, Dr. William Edward Van, its Chief Dental Surgeon, and Dr. David Lawrence Terrell, its Associate Dental Surgeon.
This edition of The New Herald shows us who African-Americans were in 1935. At the time, many whites in America viewed blacks as sub-humans. For example, in 1935, white doctors subjected about 600 black men in Tuskegee, Alabama to human medical experiments without their knowledge and consent during the state and federal government's infamous Tuskegee Syphilis Study from 1932 to 1972. During this period, blacks were also subjected to forced lobotomies in state-run mental institutions. Additionally, poor black women in mental institutions and state prisons were subjected to forced sterilizations. Sadly, all blacks were considered to be "nobodies."
The New Herald's Legacy Continues
In 1978, my father, Dr. Levi Watkins, founded and published ASU Today for the purpose of presenting fair, objective, reliable, and progressive news about blacks to Alabama's African-American community and the nation as a whole. ASU Today was founded after African-Americans learned for the first time in a stunning 1976 Congressional Report that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and its former director, J. Edgar Hoover, ran a formal counterintelligence program named "COINTELPRO" from 1956 to 1972 that was designed to target, discredit, and destroy (a) distinguished African-American civil rights leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks, (b) established mainstream civil rights organizations like the NAACP, SCLC, SNCC, and CORE, and (c) a host of other advocates for social justice. Dr. King and Ms. Parks were personal friends of my parents, who thought highly of both civil rights icons.
Among the eager and willing participants in the FBI's racist COINTELPRO program were The Birmingham News, The Montgomery Advertiser, and the Mobile Press Register, all of which were then (and are now) white-owned media organizations that were hostile to the advancement of black political, economic, and social interests in Alabama. ASU Today, which is published by Alabama State University, serves the same purpose as its predecessor, The New Herald, which ceased operations at the beginning of World War II.
In 2001, I followed in this Watkins family media tradition by founding and publishing Voter News Network (VNN) to provide news focusing on national political affairs and business and finance for Independent voters. VNN also raised and contributed more than $1 million in campaign donations to Democratic, Republican, and Independent candidates for state and national political offices across America.
In 2013, Voter News Network was merged into my online Facebook news platform (i.e., the public "Donald Watkins" Facebook page) and expanded to cover international affairs, national news, social justice issues, business and financial news, sports, and political analysis. This platform operates today with approximately 5,000 Facebook "Friends" and 15,000 "Followers."
In 2018, I created www.donaldwatkins.com to expand the global reach of my Facebook news platform and its readership. Two articles on this new, online, multimedia platform, "The Royal Bloodline of Jesus and Mary Magdalene" and "The Rothschilds: Controlling the World's Money Supply for Two Centuries," have been viewed by nearly 100,000 readers worldwide. A third article, "The Murder of Private LaVena Johnson," has been viewed by more than 70,000 people.
Telling the truth about who black people are and what we have achieved in America against all odds has been a Watkins family media tradition for 86 years. The New Herald is where it all began. There's no telling where it will end.