Founder of Charleston’s esteemed Black community paper dies

CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) — James “Jim” French, the founder of a weekly paper that has served as a mainstay for Black communities in Charleston, South Carolina, for nearly half a century, has died. He was 94.

French, who founded The Charleston Chronicle in 1971, died July 31, The Post and Courier reported.

The Kansas native established the esteemed community paper after retiring from the Navy, crafting the publication into a go-to news source for African Americans in South Carolina’s Lowcountry. The Chronicle soon became a respected institution among Charleston’s Black leaders, shaping discourse on how to best address problems of economic distress and racial inequity as it advocated for the Black community.

“His greatest contribution was providing the vehicle that a lot of people used to wage (their) battles,” said Barney Blakeney, a longtime Chronicle contributor.

State Rep. Wendell Gilliard, a Charleston Democrat, told The Post and Courier that French used to spend hours discussing the problems facing Charleston’s communities.

“The Chronicle actually paved the way for my political career,” Gilliard said. “Anyone who aspired to be anything in the community, in terms of serving the public, we would meet in Jim’s office and talk about community-related issues — jobs, crime, public housing. Those were the things on Jim’s mind.”

French edited and oversaw the paper until 2016, when he turned operations over to his grandchildren.

He was born Oct. 7, 1926, in Kansas City, Kansas. During his Navy service, he worked as a photojournalist and managed radio and TV stations. He relocated to Charleston in the late 1960s, launching the Chronicle shortly after.

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