Observer History

If you happened to be passing a small building on the corner of 21st and X streets, on November 1962, you may have heard the slow peck of a typewriter, or the chatter of a few dedicated individuals as they stuck stamps to the outside of an unusual 4-page newspaper.

The several events during and before that significant week of Thanksgiving, marked the beginning of a Black publication that was destined to become one of the leading African American newspapers in America – THE SACRAMENTO OBSERVER.

The principal architect of the publication’s fantastic development and growth, one of the fastest in the history of Black journalism, was Dr. William Hanford Lee, a former successful real estate broker and businessman. In an amazingly short time, and with ever-increasing emphasis on “journalism excellence,” Lee, the newspaper’s inspiration and guiding light, pushed THE OBSERVER into the charmed circle occupied by only a few of America’s top publications.

Indeed, few if any, of this country’s Black newspapers can match THE Observer’s record of publishing a publication the size of 300 pages and larger; or top the unprecedented recognition given to THE OBSERVER for its outstanding historical, governmental and youth coverage; or equal the consistent publishing leadership of the paper with its supplements and special editions.

Six times THE OBSERVER has been named the nation’s top Black Newspaper, symbolized by receiving the John B. Russwurm trophy, given annually by the National Newspaper Publisher’s Association.

In fact, now after nearly five decades of service THE OBSERVER has been honored with over 600 local and national awards for outstanding community service and journalism excellence.

Playing major roles in the family owned Observer’s tremendous growth, as a modern-day Black newspaper, has been Dr. Lee’s immediate family. Mrs. Kathryn Lee, and sons, Larry, Billy and Roderick (deceased), all have served in dedicated leadership roles at THE OBSERVER. In addition, there has been the hardworking “staff – family of THE OBSERVER.”

People like Joe Stinson, director of advertising sales; OBSERVER co-founder John Cole, a retired Sacramento businessman; former editors and senior writers Wilbur Miller, Dr. Joe Dear, Bill Davis, Shawn Ortiz, Mel Assagi, Larry Hicks, Donna Burke, Joel Maybury, Kevan Carter, Mardeio Cannon, Curtis Haynes, Staci Bush, and what publisher Lee has called, “a fine, dedicated staff.”

Many of the publication’s loyal advertisers and readers have also contributed

significantly to the paper’s growth. The key words in the history of THE OBSERVER has to have been “courage” and “dedication.” Most young publications, as did THE OBSERVER, found the early years of establishing readers and advertisers extremely rough. This is doubly so for Black newspapers. Breaking into budgets of major advertisers is not an easy proposition.

However, the newspaper’s advertising has steadily grown. Grown to the point where it has justified an average-size weekly publication of about 80 pages, with a number of additional inserts. Publisher Lee says THE OBSERVER has served the Black community of Sacramento and Northern California “proudly.”

“However, because of changing demographics and technologies much more growth and creative development is still before us,” he adds.

“Publishing a newspaper is certainly not one of the easiest tasks in the world, but it has to be one of the most exciting. We continue to solicit support of readers and advertisers in our market to make THE OBSERVER one of the most valuable significant communication enterprises in America,” the publisher continues.

“Informing the community is our mission. With untiring dedication, a focus on the changing direction of the industry, and the growing support of others, we will achieve this mission,” relates Dr. Lee.