This year the Los Angeles Sentinel will show the world what it has accomplished over the last 75 years and its plans for the future. In 2008, the Los Angeles Sentinel turns 75 and plans to share its accomplishments and achievements with the world, and what the future holds for the number one Black newspaper in the country in the 21st century. The watchwords of the paper in 1933 were “The People’s Paper” and those words still hold true today, especially this election year.
In looking back through the Sentinel’s history, one can readily understand why Colonel Leon Washington founded and published the paper when he did. In one of the early editions, the Sentinel was described as fearless, independent and free, and Col. Washington was exhorting Black people “don’t spend your money where you can’t work.”
There were reactionary forces that tried to stifle the Colonel’s voice and the Sentinel’s press by putting him in jail, but he survived and prevailed, setting the tone for future years of massive civil-disobedience protests that lay ahead. He recognized the need for the Black press as a vital organ in the fight for freedom, equality and justice for all people but particularly for Black people.
The focus of Col. Washington’s protest was Zerg’s Furniture Store, a business operating in the heart of the Black community but would not employ any Black people. He wrote, “If Mr. Zerg thinks that he can halt the ‘Don’t-Spend-Your-Money-Where-You-Can’t-Work’ campaign by high-handed actions he is sadly mistaken. The campaign does not depend on any individual. The Sentinel is not frightened and until Mr. Zerg and the other merchants guilty of discrimination abandon their policy, this newspaper will continue to advocate that “Negroes” withhold their patronage. Economic self preservation demands that.”
Col. Washington guided the Sentinel until his passing in 1974 whereupon Mrs. Ruth Washington, his spouse, became the publisher. She continued her husband’s tradition as being fearless and independent and moved the newspaper by leaps and bounds wherein it enjoyed unprecedented growth in the areas of its readership and advertisements. Referring to her husband, when Mrs. Washington was the publisher, she reportedly said, “I’ve taken my cues from him; he was a great man, a visionary and a leader.”
After Mrs. Washington’s tenure at the helm, Attorney Kenneth “Ken” Thomas became the next publisher and immediately realized that the demographic shift in the Black community called for a change in the paper’s location. Also to keep in touch with the community, he moved the paper to the Crenshaw district, the hub of progress in the Black community today. Thomas commented, “Our economic survival is dependent on our staying in touch with the constituency we serve and that constituency is no longer on Central Avenue.”
When Attorney Thomas passed in 1997, his widow, Mrs. Jennifer Thomas became the next publisher. She was equally committed to the direction of the paper and continued on the course that her husband had set. She stated, “The Sentinel has a strong, solid foundation in the Black community and it was a pleasure for my husband, Kenneth Thomas and me to serve as publishers. Our vision for the Sentinel was to empower and inform the community, and continue to carry the torch that Ruth Washington handed to us. The torch continues to shine brightly and will never fade. The Sentinel will continue to be the most informative Black newspaper in America. I am proud to say that I had the opportunity to be a part of that history.”
In 2004, Danny J. Bakewell Sr. became the executive publisher and began to aggressively revolutionize the Sentinel. He was referred to in a local magazine as “a new breed of aggressive Black entrepreneurs revolutionizing the publishing industry moving away from purely serving as a tool of socio-political activism to attract more subscribers and advertising dollars.”
Bakewell said, “For 75 years, the Los Angeles Sentinel has served as a strong voice for the Black community. The Bakewell family is proud and humbled to be able to continue the great tradition of service to the African American community began by Col. Leon Washington and his wife, Ruth, as well as Ken and Jennifer Thomas, as the voice of our community speaking for itself.”