The University of South Florida St. Petersburg is launching digital archives of the Weekly Challenger newspaper. The 51-year-old publication documents life in African-American communities in the Tampa Bay area.
Now, people all over the world can have this history at their fingertips.
Cleveland Johnson, Jr. bought the Weekly Challenger for $40 in 1967, when it was only a few months old. The paper has been in the hands of the Johnson family since then -- it was taken over by his wife when Johnson passed away in 2001, then handed over to their daughter, Lyn.
In 2013, the paper collaborated with the USFSP Nelson Poynter Memorial Library to start archiving past editions in an effort to preserve both print and digital newspapers and photographs.
With five decades worth of information online, Lyn Johnson said people all over the world can read about the black community over the years.
“I think it’s important for our voices to be heard the way we tell it, and not the way it’s been told throughout the years,” she said. “We are a marginalized community, and if you don’t tell your own story, then you have to live with what other people say and think or feel about you.”
Former St. Petersburg Police Chief Goliath Davis said that the archives will share to the world a different kind of information about the community.
“Locally, within the schools and what have you, children are able to read a history of their community that's not really taught in the history books,” Davis said.
Davis said that Cleveland Johnson ran the paper because of a dream he and his wife had: to tell the story of the people of St. Petersburg from a realistic standpoint.
“The African-American community is not pathological,” Davis said. “The African-American experience is not characterized by crime.”
He said that Johnson set out to tell the people’s story, but would not let crime be a part of his paper. The paper covered a vibrant community, focusing on values, customs, and history that a lot of people in the area didn’t know about.
The archives can be found on the Poynter Library's Weekly Challenger webpage.