A $10 Investment 95 years ago turned the Amsterdam News into one of New York’s largest and most influential Black-owned and operated business institutions.
On December 4, 1909, the late James H. Anderson put out the first issue of the Amsterdam News. He had $10 in his pocket, six sheets of paper, a lead pencil and a dressmaker’s table.
The newspaper was one of only 50 Black papers in the United States at that time, and it was sold for 2 cents a copy from Anderson’s home at 132 W. 65th St., in the San Juan Hill section of Manhattan. With the spread of Blacks to Harlem and the growing success of the paper, Anderson moved the Amsterdam News uptown to 17 W. 135th St. in 1910. In 1916, it moved to 2293 Seventh Ave., and in 1938, it moved again, to 2271 Seventh Ave. In the early 1940s, the paper relocated to its present address at 2340 Eighth Ave.
Not soon after the death of Edward Warren, one of the early publishers, Anderson sold his stock in the paper. In 1935, after many years of struggle, the paper was sold to the Powell Savory Corporation, then owned by two of the nations foremost Black entrepreneurs, Dr. C.B. Powell and Dr. Phillip M.H. Savory. Dr. Powell assumed the role of publisher.
During Powell’s stewardship, the Amsterdam News not only took on local news, but national news as well. Much of the paper’s strength was based on its shaping the advancement and realization of Black aspirations. As a consequence, the paper is undoubtedly the most frequently quoted Black weekly in the world. The Amsterdam News, in its 95 years, has had many significant innovations. It was the second Black newspaper to be admitted to the Audit Bureau of Circulation (ABC), in October 1930, of which it is still a member. In 1936, it became the first – and still is the only – Black newspaper that was unionized in all departments by the Newspaper Guild of New York, Local 3.
On May 1, 1971, Dr. C.B. Powell announced his retirement and sold the Amsterdam News to the Amnews Corporation, its present owner. Over the years, many important figures in journalism have been editors of the paper, including T. Thomas Fortune, George W. Harris, Obie McCollum, John Lewis Clarke, Earl Brown, Dan Burley, Julius J. Adams, Thomas Watkins, S.W. Garlington, Stanley Ross, T.J. Sellers, Dr. G. James Fleming, James L. Hicks, Jesse H. Walker and Bryant Rollins. While the Amsterdam News is Black-oriented, it has always been aware of the fact that it serves a multiracial community and recognized other ethnic groups.
On Nov. 26, 1963, The New York Times credited the Amsterdam News with inspiring a crackdown on vices and other ills in the village of Harlem. “The Amsterdam News has always had a great deal of persuasive power in Harlem and other Black communities,” the Times Wrote.
In August 1982, Wilbert A. Tatum, chairman of the board and editor-in-chief, assumed direction of the paper and has since broadened its editorial perspective, particularly in international affairs. This expanded thrust has produced considerable interest and readership from all sectors of the local, national and international communities.
In July 1996, Tatum bought out the last remaining investor, putting the future of the paper in the hands of the Tatum family. In December 1997, Tatum stepped down as publisher and editor-in-chief and passed the torch to his daughter, Elinor Ruth Tatum, who was 26 years old at the time.