Farewell to James A. Washington: A Trailblazer in Black Journalism and Community Advocacy

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By Stacy M. Brown

NNPA Newswire Senior National Correspondent
@StacyBrownMedia

As the headline in this week’s Atlanta Voice was heartbreaking, it proved fitting. Straight and to the point, an obituary by Donnell Suggs came with the headline, “James A. Washington, 73, a champion of Black press and journalism, passes away.” Washington was straight and to the point, a champion of the Black press, an astute spokesman for journalism, and a rare gem who earned trust on his first words in a conversation. The president and general manager of the Atlanta Voice, Washington, always displayed a genuine concern for Black America and its longtime voice, The Black Press of America. In 2019 and again in 2021, Washington said he considered a run to chair the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA), the trade association of the more than 250 African American-owned newspapers and media companies in the Black Press of America. In both cases, Washington declined to compete against his friends, Houston Forward Times Publisher, and former chair Karen Carter Richards, who held the post for two terms, and the current chair, Westside Gazette Publisher Bobby Henry. Instead, Washington pledged to support them.

“We’ve got to somehow forge a unity that this organization hasn’t seen in a long time,” Washington confided. “The potential for the NNPA has never been fully realized, but I know one day a light bulb will turn on among the greater population of the NNPA, and everybody is going to reap bountifully.” Washington wasn’t your typical optimist; he was as much a realist as anyone. When others complained, Washington pushed to accomplish. When the NNPA began live-streaming programs during the COVID pandemic, Washington counted among the first guests. During an early broadcast, a business owner announced he had not previously been in touch with the NNPA, and Washington wasted no time educating the individual – an advertising deal resulted.

Washington later repeated his actions when then-Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban appeared on the NNPA’s digital show. In the wake of George Floyd’s police-related death, Cuban was among those who reflected on his lack of support to Black America, including the Black Press. Washington followed up, ultimately striking a deal with Cuban to partner with the Dallas Weekly, run by Washington’s son, Patrick Washington. It was typical James Washington; when opportunity knocked, his door was open. When it appeared opportunity was elusive, Washington either made a way, or found a way. “I worked for James over 35 years ago —as an intern at The Dallas Weekly,” Journalist Dorothy Gentry wrote on X. “I last saw him a few years back in Miami at NABJ. We laughed and shared memories. He will be missed.”

A sales executive, Robert Walker-Smith, added that Washington’s voice is silenced, yet his spirit lives forever.” Sugg’s column noted that Washington had been involved in nearly every level of the communications field for over four decades. From his time as the publisher of The Dallas Weekly, a Black-owned and operated publication, to his work as the public relations manager for the Dallas Ballet, Washington had always been a strong representation of Black excellence and intelligence.

Washington has twice served on the Dallas Black Chamber of Commerce board, the Dallas Arboretum, the United Way of Metropolitan Dallas, and the National Newspaper Publishers Association. He is a former tri-chair of Dallas’ Commission on Race Relations and the Dallas Together Forum. He is also a former member of the Federal Reserve Bank’s Small Business and Agriculture Advisory Committee in Dallas. Jim was named “Man of the Year” in 1986 by the Dallas Metropolitan Club of Negro Business and Professional Women.

Since then, he has been honored for outstanding community service by organizations such as Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, The Links, Inc., United Way, Dallas Independent School District, Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center, Daniel “Chappie” James Learning Center, the NAACP, KKDA, and KRLD radio stations, Dallas Black Dance Theatre, Dallas Museum of Arts, and the State Fair of Texas. Washington earned his bachelor’s degree in English and Instructional Media from Historically Black College and Southern University. He also earned a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

An author, Washington published his book Spiritually Speaking, Reflections For and From a New Christian, in 2019.

Washington is survived by his wife, The Atlanta Voice publisher Janis Ware; his children, daughter Elena Bonifay (husband David Bonifay) and son Patrick Washington (wife Jessica Washington); his grandchildren James Spencer Emanuel Washington, Penelope Elena Jimenez Washington and William Emmanuel Edward Austin Bonifay, and his nieces and nephews.

 

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