This publisher turned a free circulation newspaper into a 40k subscription-based entity in the 70s

Leon Washington Jr/Photo credit: The Black American Merch, Twitter

Leon H. Washington Jr. probably became a household name for initiating a series of non-violent protests in 1949. In this campaign, he resurrected the rallying slogan of the 1930 boycott in Washington D.C, and New York City, which asked African Americans not to spend their money where they can’t work.

His frustrations had to do with the posture of white merchants who worked in black communities but were reluctant to employ African Americans. Though this defiance was targeted at economic inequality, it wasn’t the first time he had campaigned against this injustice.

When he established his newspaper in the early 1930s, he advocated economic equality and entrepreneurship. His career in journalism started on a social enterprise note. After three years of working as an advertising salesman for the oldest and largest black newspaper in Los Angeles, the California Eagle, he set up his own outlet, the Eastside Shopper.

The business model Leon used in reaching his black readership was free circulation. The newspaper’s objective was to provide African American residents with news and information that was not being covered by the mainstream media.

The newspaper covered a range of topics, including local and national news, politics, and sports. It also featured articles on the arts and culture, as well as opinion pieces on issues affecting the African American community. After a year of operation, the newspaper experienced a huge jump in readership.

Leon decided to rebrand the outlet and changed the name of the paper to the Sentinel. The change also came in revision to the business model and became a subscription. It soon began as a major competitor of The California Eagle, according to black past. In 1972, the paper attained a high circulation number of 39, 277 and had a staff of 50.

Leon was born on April 15, 1907, in Kansas City, Kansas, to Leon and Blanche Washington. He was raised in Kansas Coty with his two other siblings, attended Summer High School, and graduated in 1925. He relocated to Topeka after graduation from high school and gained admission at Washburn College, which he completed in 1929. Like many struggling graduates looking for a job, Leon first settled on
an independent clothing salesman job in Kansas City, Missouri.

He married the newspaper photographer, Ruth Brumell, in 1940. However, he began experiencing a series of health issues, which later resulted in a stroke. This compelled him to cede part of the ownership of the paper to his wife, whom he made the assistant publisher and business manager.

He acted as a publisher for the newspaper until his demise in June 1974 at the age of 67. His widow, Ruth, took over the affairs of the paper as both editor and publisher of the Los Angeles Sentinel, and served in that capacity until her death in 1990.

Leon was known for his editorial leadership and his commitment to promoting African American voices and perspectives. He was also a mentor to young journalists, many of whom went on to have successful careers in the media. The ownership of the Sentinel is currently controlled by real estate developer, Danny Bakewell, and is still published weekly in Los Angeles.

Last Edited by:Annie-Flora Mills Updated: April 7, 2023


Must Read

Connect with us

Join our Mailing List to Receive Updates