The History of The Sacramento Observer

Sacramento Observer History -- 45th Anniversary

If you happened to be passing a small building on the corner of 21st and X streets, in Sacramento in 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 the late Dr. William Hanford Lee (1936-2019), 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 Publishers Association.

In fact, now after nearly six decades of service, THE OBSERVER has been honored with more than 700 local and national awards for journalism excellence and outstanding community service.

Playing major roles in the family owned OBSERVER’s tremendous growth, as a modern-day Black newspaper, has been Dr. Lee’s immediate family. The late Mrs. Kathryn Lee (1935-2013), and sons, Larry, Billy and Roderick (deceased), all have served in dedicated leadership roles at THE OBSERVER. Larry Lee has ascended to the role of OBSERVER Publisher and President.

In addition, there has been the hardworking “staff/family of THE OBSERVER.”

People such as 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 Assagai, Larry Hicks, Donna Burke, Joel Maybury, Kevan Carter, Mardeio Cannon, Curtis Haynes, Staci Bush, and what publisher Lee called, “a fine, dedicated staff.” That legacy has continued today with a team of OBSERVER veterans such as Genoa Barrow, Antonio Harvey, Wilma Whitfield, Percy Johnson and photographers such as Larry Dalton, Ray Johnson and Robert Maryland.

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. As challenging as times have been, the newspaper’s advertising has steadily grown. With a second generation leading it, THE OBSERVER’s various offerings for both readers and advertisers continue to evolve as technology advances.

Links about OBSERVER founder Dr. William H. Lee and Kathryn C. Lee:

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