In 1938, Percy Greene started the Jackson Advocate newspaper. Many who are Jackson residents and/or supporters and subscribers of our publication may know a little bit about its history. The Jackson Advocate has been an institution in the Black community for 83 years now, and even though the burden can sometimes feel heavy on my shoulders, I’m proud to be a part of this legacy and a part of the continuation of a tradition of Black excellence and upliftment.
One thing that sometimes escapes my mind in its importance is that the Jackson Advocate is a business. As I’ve grown to look at the impact of the legacy my family has had on this publication – beginning when my dad, Charles Tisdale, purchased the newspaper from Greene’s wife Frances in 1978 – there’s no doubt that the desire and goal was to make sure that we were heavy on the Advocate part of the name.
Both my dad and my mom, Alice Thomas (Tisdale) Perkins, were action-oriented; even in retirement, my mom still is. They often devoted the same amount of time and money – if not more – to people and various issues that arose in the community as they did the publication. My mom developed a printing business program, Project Re-entry, to assist women returning from prison. It also paid the wages of participants placed at local Black businesses to increase their productivity. Among them were Cross Communications and Dynastics Screen Printing.
That program was so successful that it was turned over to Willa Womack who owns Classic Printing to this day. She started NEIGHBORS – Nation’s Evacuees in Good Hands with Benevolent Outreach Services – to assist victims of the Hurricanes Katrina & Rita in relocating to Jackson, helping them with quality of life services – health, education, housing, transportation, recreation, environmental justice, and employment/career opportunities – and securing vital records for school registration for their children and healthcare services.
The Advocate partnered with local restaurants to obtain free meals for those who were hungry, provide tokens for the washeteria, and give away gift cards during the holidays. On many occasions, my dad would accompany people to court to ensure justice prevailed. Our work still promotes literacy, annually delivering thousands of copies of newspapers to schools and churches which feature stories about their students and congregations. We’ve accomplished and made a real impact in this area. And I strive to have that same impact as the person at the helm of the Jackson Advocate today – from an organizing standpoint and by creating a space in our publication for solutions-based journalism.
Yet, as mentioned earlier, the Jackson Advocate is a business – a small Black-owned, now woman-owned business. To look at the Advocate as a business in history’s purview, it’s almost unfathomable that a Black man in Jim Crow Mississippi – before World War II, before Brown vs. Board, before Emmett Till’s murder, before the Civil Rights Movement – would be able to start a newspaper. There were other Black businesses along Farish Street and the downtown area – Big Apple Inn, Louise Marshall’s Music & Bookstore, and practices of Black lawyers and doctors, among others – but many Blacks at that time were still sharecroppers, maids, and various other occupations that rarely paid a liveable wage. No doubt, Greene’s record did not go unscathed. He was an informant for the Mississippi Sovereignty Commission during the Civil Rights Movement and that has shaped the way he is remembered today.
When my dad took over, he restored faith and trust in the Black Press in Mississippi. But he faced challenges as well. He was blackballed by white business owners, who pulled their advertising from the publication. Through Aaron Henry and the NAACP, he put out a clarion call for all Mississippi NAACP presidents to help the oldest Black newspaper in the state continue to keep its doors open. And a 26-year-old 1st grade reading instructor named Alice Thomas, who also happened to be the president of the Mound Bayou chapter of the NAACP, decided to move to Jackson to be of service to the Black Press.
From 1978 to now, and hopefully for hundreds of years more, the Jackson Advocate has been a family run and owned business. The last 40 years of the Jackson Advocate’s 83-year history has had the Tisdale name stamped on it and I’m very proud of that. We have experienced hardships and triumphs.
I remember my mom telling me a story where she wondered how her and my dad would be able to pay the printer one week. She went to pick up mail from the post office to see if there was any money coming in and, to her surprise, there was a check for $2,000. The check was supposed to be for $2. At my dad’s insistence, my mom called the company. She was shocked when they asked if the ad could just keep running until the money ran out. God is good! For my mom, this was a real lesson in faith and obedience; I know every business owner has experienced that at least once.
I also remember learning about the times our offices were shot up by Ku Klux Klan members. Our storage facility caught on fire. And I was 12-years-old when our offices were firebombed, and the house next door to our home was firebombed. This was at the height of our publication’s success. But we’ve still survived. It hasn’t returned to that Golden Age just yet, but my goal is to get us there and even surpass the level of wealth, commitment, advocacy, and impact that my mom and dad had.
Growing up, I saw the newspaper process firsthand. My mom used to have a dark room, and each article had to be typed up on a Compugraphic typesetter where you used chemicals to process the type loaded on 8-inch floppy disks. The paper and photos had to be cut out with an X-Acto knife and sprayed with adhesive. My mom transitioned the paper to be sustainable in the digital age, and now, I hope to take that a step further and propel us to stand as a multimedia company.
Over the past few years, and through a pandemic, I have learned how hard it is to keep a business afloat, and I’m forever grateful for the hard work of our staff, the dedication of our subscribers, and the faith of our advertisers and supporters.
In this issue, we wanted to take this opportunity to look back at businesses that we have highlighted over the past decade. Some of the businesses have closed, but they will not be forgotten. Other businesses have found innovative ways to continue providing services. That is no small feat during a pandemic.
Throughout this trying time, small businesses have been impacted the most in both positive and negative ways. Sole proprietors in many areas, including beauty salons and barber shops, have struggled to keep their doors open, even with PPP funds. Nonetheless, there have been some silver linings. In some ways, due to social unrest, organizations, large corporations, and other entities have poured money into the Black community over the past 18 months.
The Jackson Advocate salutes Black businesses. We hope you enjoy this 83rd Anniversary Special Edition.
DeAnna Tisdale Johnson,
Jackson Advocate Publisher