Parham, Marjorie B.

views updated

Marjorie B. Parham


Publisher, editor

Marjorie B. Parham is a newspaper publisher who spent more than three decades at the helm of the Cincinnati Herald, a newspaper that served the city's African-American community. Parham took over as publisher and editor in 1963 after the unexpected death of her husband, the newspaper's founder, Gerald Porter. Though she had negligible experience in journalism, Parham worked overtime to ensure the Herald stayed on firm financial footing. "I did everything—edited, wrote, took pictures, did the payroll, balanced the books, sold ads, swept the floor," she told Jim Knippenberg in the Cincinnati Enquirer in 2005. "I worked weekends, holidays, late night. I didn't know what a 40-hour week was."

Born in 1918 in Clermont County, Ohio, Parham graduated from Batavia High School and went on to Wilberforce University, a historically black college in Ohio. She later took classes at the University of Cincinnati, but as she explained to Knippenberg, "when a black girl graduated high school in 1935, she had to be a teacher, a nurse or a social worker. I didn't want any part of that. I wanted a business career. That's why I never graduated from college. I was getting pushed away from what I wanted to do."

Parham's marriage to William Spillers produced a son, but she was single again by 1946 and took a job as a clerk with the U.S. Veterans Administration in Cincinnati. In 1954 she wed Gerald Porter, who a year later founded the Cincinnati Herald, a weekly newspaper aimed at an African-American readership in the city. The Herald was not the first black-owned newspaper in Cincinnati, but took the place of the Union, which had shut down in the early 1950s. In 1961 Porter launched a sister publication, the Dayton Tribune.

Parham retired from the Veterans Administration in 1961 to take over the Dayton Tribune, which her son had been running until he was drafted by the U.S. military. Her husband died in an automobile accident two years later. "He was taken to a hospital on (Cincinnati's) east side, and they refused to treat him," Parham recalled in the Cincinnati Enquirer. "The nurse's exact words were, ‘We don't accommodate Negro bed patients.’ Do you believe that? She wasn't even subtle about it." Despite her loss, Parham did not want to see her late husband's efforts die with him, and she decided to take over the business. Her son received an early release from military service and returned home to help her run the papers. A family friend, Hartwell Parham, provided business and editorial advice, and he later became Parham's third husband.

Parham eventually shut down the Dayton paper, but as publisher of the Herald she continually sought new sources of revenue. She traveled to New York City and called at the offices of major advertising agencies in order to secure lucrative national ads, and also reached out to local businesses and readers by making the Herald's classified advertising section a convenient place for buyers and sellers. On the editorial side, she strove to make the paper a must-read. "We had a slogan at the Herald, ‘Know the truth,’" she told a gathering of the Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce in 2007. "We tried to get to the bottom of things and report them as they really were."

Parham became a respected figure in the greater Cincinnati community through both her newspaper work and her involvement in numerous civic organizations. In 1982 she became the second African American ever to serve as a trustee of the University of Cincinnati, and also chaired the board of the National Afro-American Museum and Cultural Center in Wilberforce, Ohio. She was also active in the Urban League, the American Red Cross, and scouting groups. Hartwell Parham died in 1981.

In 1993 Parham retired from day-to-day operations, with her son taking over her duties as publisher and president. In 1996 they sold the Herald to Sesh Communications, a local company that published a Cincinnati guide and magazine. Parham still retained the title "publisher emerita" on the masthead of the Herald, and occasionally made collection calls to advertisers late on their invoices on behalf of the trio of young African-American professionals now running the paper.

In 2007 Parham was honored as a "Great Living Cincinnatian" by the Cincinnati Regional Chamber of Commerce. She spoke at the award ceremony, reflecting back on her unexpected, thirty-three-year career as a newspaper publisher. "One reason why a black paper has been so vital is that, without it, the only kind of news we could get in the newspaper was bad news," she told the gathering. "The satisfaction you get is the ability to present what the major media does not present to the public. I had the privilege of showcasing the good things."

At a Glance …

Born in Clermont County, OH, in 1918; married William Spillers (marriage ended 1946); married Gerald Porter (a newspaper publisher; died 1963), 1954; married Hartwell Parham (died 1981); children: William M. Spillers Jr. Education: Attended Wilberforce University and the University of Cincinnati.

Career: Clerk with the U.S. Veterans Administration, 1946-61; Dayton Tribune, publisher, 1961-63; Cincinnati Herald, president and publisher, 1963-96, became publisher emerita, 1996. Trustee, University of Cincinnati, after 1982; National Afro-American Museum and Cultural Center, board chair.

Memberships: National Newspaper Publishers Association (former treasurer; trustee); Greater Cincinnati Urban League.

Awards: Community Service Media Award, National Conference of Christians and Jews, 1977; Trailblazer Award, National Association of Black Journalists, 1993; inducted into the Ohio Women's Hall of Fame, 1994; named Great Living Cincinnatian, Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce, 2007.

Addresses: Office—c/o Cincinnati Herald, 354 Hearne Ave., Cincinnati, OH 45229.



Cincinnati Enquirer, March 15, 2005, p. E1.

Cincinnati Post, June 24, 1999, p. 16A.

Kentucky Post (Covington, KY), December 16, 2006, p. A2; February 23, 2007, p. A3.


"Cincinnati Herald," Cincinnati Historical Society Library, (accessed October 11, 2008).

"Great Living Cincinnatians," Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce, (accessed October 11, 2008).

—Carol Brennan