By Stephen Magagnini | OBSERVER Editor-In-Chief
The Sacramento OBSERVER has been honored for its enduring legacy as the voice and defender of Sacramento’s growing Black community.
On Thursday, June 10, The OBSERVER received the 2021 Burnett Award from the Sacramento History Alliance. Other honorees included Taylor’s Market, HUB International, Iceland Skating Rink and Shasta Linen Supply.
The virtual ceremony was hosted by local television personality Mark S. Allen.
Previous winners include Sacramento icons such as Beers Books, Biba, Blue Diamond Growers, Corti Brothers, Espanol, Frank Fat’s, The Trap, General Produce, Teichert Construction and two classic ice cream parlors, Vic’s and Gunther’s.
The alliance manages the Sacramento History Museum, which is scheduled to reopen Thursday, July 1.
Clarence Ceasar, one of Sacramento’s most respected historians, discovered The OBSERVER as a teenager growing up in Del Paso Heights, soon after the newspaper was launched in 1962 by Dr. William H. Lee, radio man Geno Gladden, and businessman John W. Cole. Caesar introduced The OBSERVER during the awards ceremony.
“Black-owned national magazine news publications such as Ebony or Jet were read in our household,” Caesar said. “What separated the OBSERVER from these publications was its laser-like focus and dedication in covering Sacramento’s growing Black community,” which grew from about 10,000 when the OBSERVER first rolled off the presses to more than 200,000 today in the seven-county Sacramento region, Caesar said.
Caesar and his wife are among the roughly 40,000 paid subscribers who still rely on the OBSERVER for “in-depth news stories that inform us of the people and events of immediate importance to my neighborhood and similar Black neighborhoods across Sacramento,” said Caesar, 70. “Many of these stories have involved people who our family personally knew, worked with, did business with, or worshipped with.”
The OBSERVER is a six-time winner of the John B. Russwurm Trophy, the highest award given annually by the National Newspaper Publishers Association to America’s top Black newspaper, Caesar said. “The OBSERVER has hired and nurtured a sizable cadre of writers and reporters who expanded and developed their skills and careers with the paper prior to finding similar positions with larger local and national media outlets.”
With the passing of founding editor and publisher Dr. William H. Lee in 2019, his son Larry Lee took the helm, and “has assured The Sacramento OBSERVER’s place in the digital age with a well-established website, sacobserver.com,” Caesar said. “The website has boosted the OBSERVER’s capacity to reach readers across the nation and around the world.”
Caesar said The OBSERVER still publishes a top-flight weekly print edition. “This dedication to its past and present readers, and the communities in which they live, has established the Sacramento OBSERVER as an important and valuable Sacramento institution and asset.”
Larry Lee, in his acceptance speech, said, “It’s a true pleasure to be honored among such iconic brands who all have made history in their own unique way.”
The OBSERVER, an idea born on a kitchen table in the midst of the Civil Rights Movement, owes a tremendous debt to “my parents, Bill and Kathryn Lee, who spent the better part of a half a century helping to build an institution like the Sacramento OBSERVER newspaper,” Lee said. “We feel very fortunate we’ve weathered very difficult times to still be very relevant nearly 60 years after our founding in 1962.”
Lee noted the OBSERVER has “made history by becoming keepers of history.”
“We don’t take that responsibility lightly,” Lee said, “and at The OBSERVER we share in the mission of the Sacramento History Alliance and the Center for Sacramento History to help shine a light on Sacramento’s diverse communities and history that they make and the contributions that they make to this region every day.”