Precinct Reporter Published 56 Years: Tribute to Art Townsend
By Timothy Lewis
The month of July celebrates the Precinct Reporter’s 56th year of providing quality journalism and information to the Inland Empire. The Precinct Reporter is also taking the opportunity to celebrate Founder, Activist, and Philanthropist, Art Townsend who would have celebrated his 100th birthday this year as well.
Founded in 1965, the Precinct Reporter has been granted a multitude of awards throughout its history for being a reliable source of information and resources for the community.
Art Townsend originally started the Precinct Reporter, following the 1965 Watts Riots. It was designed to be a counteraction to all the violence that was breaking out during that time. Townsend believed that the pen was mightier than the sword, and the paper could be a non-violent solution to rallying the community into building a reliable voter bloc in the westside of San Bernardino (a predominantly Black and Brown area of the city that was facing a plethora of socio-economic injustices).
Born in Daytona Beach, Florida in 1921 Townsend attended Bethune-Cookman College, served honorably in the Navy during the Second World War, and later received a degree in Political Science at UCLA.
Art Townsend was an organizer, but more than that. He built an infrastructure that will have a lasting impact for years to come. An optimistic investor of the youth, Art Townsend was a member of the San Bernardino Juvenile Commission, and was a founder of the San Bernardino Boys & Girls Club in order to give young people a place to convene other than the streets. He was a believer in Black, Latino, and women’s rights. He was a founder of the Inland Empire Black Caucus and California Federation of Black Leadership, a member of the Congress of Racial Equality, and was serving as President of the West Coast Black Publishers Association at the time of his death. Mr. Townsend was also a great supporter of the League of Mothers who led the fight for school integration in San Bernardino.
Whether it’s fighting for business rights in the 60’s or speaking out about police brutality in the 80’s the Reporter has always been in the people’s corner. Since then, the Precinct Reporter has grown to be the largest and oldest black-owned paper within the San Bernardino and Riverside County area and has long been a watchdog of justice and instrumental in helping implement institutional change that has transformed the lives of thousands of people. The Precinct Reporter strongly believe in the importance of the Black Press as it is a useful tool in helping further progress in the black community.
Former Arizona House of Representative Member and Publisher of the Arizona Informant Cloves Campbell speaks fondly on the time spent with Art Townsend during his youth. Campbell’s father, Cloves Campbell, Sr. was a close friend of Mr. Townsend, and so would leave Campbell, Jr to spend a lot of time with the Publisher, whether it was sitting in on advertisement sales calls or weekly meetings. Campbell said that “Art Townsend was not just known and respected locally but throughout the country as well.” Art Townsend’s passion for history, community, and the preservation and success of black business is what led him to be a widely known figure. He is enshrined in the Black Press Gallery of Distinguished Newspaper Publishers at Howard University.
Former Rialto Assembly Member Amina Carter spoke warmly of Art Townsend and credited him with originally inspiring her to pursue her political career. On Saturday mornings, Mr. Townsend would meet with Mrs. Carter and her husband Ratibu Jacocks for breakfast and share the history of San Bernardino and the Black businesses that resided within. Mr. Townsend also shared stories of his visits to Africa which inspired both Mrs. Carter and her husband to become more active members of their community, going so far as to build up their own Black business directory to assist business owners. Mrs. Carter was elated to speak about her old friend and mentor and spoke about him in the highest regard saying, “He took the time to share his knowledge with others, treated everyone as if they were family, never boastful, and took risks that most black business owners were afraid to at the time.”
Art Townsend brought the Precinct Reporter to life, but its surviving legacy is due to the toil of Mr. Townsend’s successor Brian Townsend, son and now publisher of the Precinct Reporter. Brian Townsend has run the paper in the same fashion as his father. A believer in the power of community solidarity and family, Brian Townsend has continued to fill the much needed positions of a trustworthy local paper that has served as a beacon of information and resources for so many people within the inland empire area. When asked about how his father has inspired him, Mr. Townsend responded with this statement. “I am luckier than many Black men because I can truly say my father is my hero. Through extreme adversity, he built a wonderful legacy, raised a family that honors his memory, and left a footprint for others to emulate. He encouraged me to be a giving person, with character and a sense of responsibility. He taught me that the pen can be mightier than the sword.” Brian Townsend grew up in the newsroom, making him a choice candidate to continue his father’s legacy, however it was Mr.Townsend’s owns sense of morality that convinced him to take up the mantle of publisher for the family paper, believing the paper could reach audiences and help individuals that it had never been able to assist in previous times.
The Precinct Reporter has been around for 56 years now and within those five decades we have proven itself as a community leader and voice for those who so often go unheard. Creating a base for of readers has been the top priority in regard to preserving its legacy as a trusted community paper.