My first day at the St. Louis American was in October 1996. My last came more than 12 years later in February 2009. It was in the 70s weather-wise both days with the sun shining brightly.
There were four presidential elections, three St. Louis mayors and three St. Louis County executives during my tenure with the nation’s best black newspaper. There were countless local elections; friends of the newspaper became foes, and foes became friends. There were so many positive stories, and too many sad ones.
I wrote and/or edited thousands of stories, and helping the American grow in stature and size is a highlight of my decades in journalism. I still smile whenever I see it in a newspaper rack. The weekly sports column I now pen for the newspaper makes me feel part of the American family – but I never really left.
Obviously, the driving force of the St. Louis American is Publisher Donald M. Suggs. Without him, there would probably not be an American. It would have gone under long before I had my chance to work with him. Most days we brought out the best in each other, and I think we made a pretty good team.
The most unsung hero in the history of the American, in my opinion, is COO Kevin Jones. Jones has always found new and innovative ways to attract advertisers to the publication and sponsors and resources for the St. Louis American Foundation’s respected and essential community events.
I am now in my eighth year as a weekly panelist on the Nine Network show “Donnybrook,” but I was first invited as a guest by the late Martin Duggan when I was with the American. Duggan, a true conservative, read the American every week, and he had tremendous respect for it. He came to know me from the newspaper, and that’s what led to my joining the show.
So, I was around for about 12 years. Certainly not the longest stretch, but a time period so packed with memories it is impossible to come up with a Top 10 – but, hey, let’s give it a shot.
10. I had been at the newspaper for two weeks when I wrote a story about the ongoing feud between Mayor Freeman Bosley Jr. and Alderman Sharon Tyus. The issue was a proposed Schnucks store in her 20th Ward. Bosley was backing it, and Tyus was balking. Tyus alleged Bosley was behind a recall effort. The newspaper came out on Thursday, and the following day during a Board of Aldermen meeting she tore into me, the newspaper, Bosley, etc. If I didn’t know before, I knew then that the American carried a lot of weight.
9. Mardi Gras night, February 5, 2005. Cory Spinks vs. Zab Judah in the Savvis Center. This fight still holds the record for attendance at an indoor venue with more than 20,000 people in attendance. Spinks lost the bout, but St. Louis shined that evening. The American had followed Spinks’ career from his early fights at The Ambassador through his world title bouts. The newspaper set the standard for boxing coverage in St. Louis. It was a spectacular night that included Nelly entering the ring with Spinks.
8. In one of the saddest days in St. Louis history, former police chief Clarence Harmon was stooged off by southside backers and topped Mayor Bosley in the Democratic Primary in March 2007. Four years later, Harmon (who never really wanted to be mayor) got a knife in the back from his southside so-called friends and a butt-whooping by Francis G. Slay in the primary. I wrote the lead story after Bosley’s loss and the headline “South Rises Again for Harmon.” The New York Times said in an article shortly after the primary that the headline was indicative of the racial vitriol in St. Louis.
7. When I began working at the American, my wife Carmen and I were childless. Four years earlier when we lived in the Washington, D.C. area, our 10-month old son, Chandler, passed away from a natural cause. Well, in 1999 (at the age of 38) we had our first daughter, Bryson. Two years later came daughter No. 2, Blaine. The American family got us a double baby stroller, and we put some serious miles on it. I think the move back to St. Louis and living in my grandparents’ former house in Kirkwood had something to do with our having the girls. But it’s no coincidence that it happened while I worked at the American.
6. For many years at the American, I had a St. Louis Cardinals credential. In 2006, the Cardinals topped the Detroit Tigers to win the franchise’s first World Series since 1982. After the game, I was on the field and my cell phone was blowing up. People who knew me from around the country saw me and let me know I was going coast-to-coast. Hey, for a lifelong Cardinal fan, it was a dream evening – even if it was freezing! I was also there when the Cardinals were swept by the Boston Red Sox in 2004, and being in the Red Sox clubhouse after it snapped its 80-plus-year absence from World Series champion was also special.
5. I was in the press box the summer night in 1999 when quarterback Trent Green injured his knee in a preseason game against the San Diego Chargers. I wasn’t a big St. Louis Rams fan, but it made me sick to my stomach. Another lost season was ahead. But a guy named Kurt Warner took over, and Greatest Show on Turf was born. The season culminated in 2000 with a thrilling Super Bowl win over the Tennessee Titans in Atlanta. Newspapers from across the U.S. had Super Bowl special sections on display at the media hotel. Photojournalist Wiley Price had captured Ricky Proehl’s “The Catch” that won the NFC championship game over Tampa Bay. Our special section ran it frame-by-frame, and writers and photojournalists were amazed at the quality of our layout, design and photos. I had 75 newspapers delivered to Atlanta. They were snapped up in less than a day.
4. In January 1999, Pope John Paul II came to St. Louis. He resided at the Archdiocese, which was just west of the American’s office at 4242 Lindell. The city was braced for hundreds of thousands of people to descend upon it – and it never happened. As a result, every time the Pope’s motorcade came by the American, several of us went outside to watch him go by in the “Popemobile.” By the time he left, he would wave directly at us and smile. I’m not Catholic, but that was really cool.
3. September 11, 2001. The first jet hit the World Trade Center as I was driving to work. The second hit shortly thereafter. It was the most somber day I ever spent at the American. It was like the world had just changed forever. It would mean war. It would mean hate. It would create ugliness that festers to this very day. All flights were grounded, and we could see planes descending one after another to Lambert St. Louis Airport. Kevin Jones arranged for the American to use an Associated Press color photo of the attack on the cover. Our headline was “An American Atrocity.” I still have that issue, and it still gives me chills.
2. During the late summer and fall of 2007, Fire Chief Sherman George stood on principle and refused to approve a list of promotions based on a test he – and many experts – thought was racially biased. Mayor Slay gave into his backers, saw an opportunity to appease his base, and demoted George in October. Slay and his confidants then masterminded the hiring of his friend, Dennis Jenkerson, as fire chief. The black community was incensed, and the American never backed down in its support of George, while the Post-Dispatch and other media outlets did the mayor’s bidding. On Martin Luther King Day, January 14, 2008, Slay approached the podium to give his annual MLK Day remarks at the Old Courthouse. The boos from the crowd were so loud I swear you could hear the ruckus miles away. Slay tried to speak, but his words could not be heard. George came to the microphone, was cheered, and implored those in attendance to let the mayor speak. Slay tried again. The boos were even louder. His entire speech was drowned out by the boos. It was amazing, and it was beautiful!
1. Just a few days after the Slay booing, on January 19, I gave a rousing speech at the Carpenter’s Hall on Hampton for the man I supported for president. It wasn’t Barack Obama. It was John Edwards. I was wrong. Way wrong. Through the primary season and the campaign, this early doubter helped bring Obama’s message of hope to St. Louis through the American. Of the hundreds of events I attended, none stand out like my four days at the Democratic National Convention in Denver. The night Obama accepted the nomination at Mile High Stadium was probably the most emotional I ever felt covering a news event. There were more than 80,000 people there. It was incredible. In October, Obama spoke on the riverfront and more than 100,000 people were there, including my entire family. Election night was electric as results came in, and I was at the Chase Park Plaza on behalf of the American when Obama was declared the winner. I attended the inauguration and truly felt like I was a part of history.
All of the above happened because Dr. Suggs asked me if I would like to join his staff. That was in September 1996. I can never repay him for that. My time at the American was very special. It’s because the American itself is special. Happy Birthday. I can’t wait for the 100th.