Fly Sneakers were the fashion statement of the day at the Biscuit Brunch and Sneaker Ball on Saturday, August 11th at the DeSoto Hotel where The Savannah Tribune held its 143rd Anniversary Celebration. This year is The Black Press in America is also celebrating its 191 year of existence. The Savannah Tribune, originally named The Colored Tribune, was established and printed its first edition in December 1875. John H. Deveaux, Louis B. Toomer, Sr., and Louis Pleasant were founders of The Tribune, with John H. Deveaux serving as its first editor and owner. Subsequent owners were Solomon “Sol” C. Johnson and Willa Ayers Johnson until The Tribune closed its doors in 1960. Banker Robert E. James re-established The Savannah Tribune for publication in 1973 and became owner/publisher until 1983 when his wife, Shirley Barber James, became sole owner and publisher.
Friends, patrons, partners and sponsors filled the ballroom at the DeSoto, joining the celebration and extending congratulations to The Tribune and its Honorees. Proclamations issued by the City of Savannah, Chatham County and the Georgia Legislative Black Caucus were presented by Savannah Mayor Pro Tempore
Carol Bell, Chatham County Commission Chair Al Scott and Georgia State Representative Craig Gordon, respectively. A major focus for the event were tributes to Savannahians who were journalism Trailblazers in mainstream media or Pioneers in the Black Press. The Trailblazers in journalism were Vaughnette Goode-Walker, broadcast media; Verdelle Lambert, magazine media; Yvonne Shinhoster Lamb, print media; and Wanda Smalls Lloyd, print media. Savannah’s Pioneers in the Black Press who were recognized included John Sengstacke Abbott, founder of The Chicago Defender, the first African American daily newspaper with nationwide circulation, and his heir appearant and nephew, John H. Sengstacke who founded the National Newspaper Publishers Association. Floyd “Pressboy” Adams, owner of The Herald of Savannah, and Novella Cross-Holmes, long-time chairman for the Southeastern Regional Press Institute at Savannah State University were honored. In addition, Cross-Holmes was also recognized as a former Savannah Tribune general manager. Special tributes were given to Deborah McIntosh Vacianna, General Manager and Editor of The Tribune (1973-1980) during the early years of its re-emergence; and Tanya Milton who began her newspaper career with The Tribune, 1975 – 1978, and who, since returning in 2002 as Vice President-Advertising Director, has taken The Tribune to new heights in print and electronic media. Former general managers and editors were also acknowledged.
Special guests for the occasion were Mrs. Dorothy Leavelle, Chairman of the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) and Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr., NNPA President and CEO. Dawn Baker, News Anchor, WTOCTV, CBS Savannah, served as emcee, and program participants included The Reverend Shannon O. Smith, Sr. of First Mount Sinai Baptist Church, Savannah Arts Academy student A’Lani Coppock, and William Martin, owner of SeriousWays Multi-Media who produced a historical video documentary of The Savannah Tribune that was unveiled during the program. Music was provided by the grand-nephew of Shirley and Robert James, Baxter J. Barber (DJ BSmoove), a freshman at Marietta High School, Mariette, GA.
Community service was also a focal point of the Anniversary Celebration. Patrons were asked to donate new or gently used sneakers, and several boxes were filled to the brim. The sneakers will be presented to the Chatham-Savannah Authority for the Homeless to assist with their efforts to serve the homeless population in the area. Before the Red Carpet Sneaker Walk, the James children paid a special tribute to their parents, Robert and Shirley James, acknowledging their 50th Wedding Anniversary with a power point-video photographic story of the couple, “Through the Years,” produced by their granddaughter, Lauren C. James. Their children, grandchildren and family members from near and as far away as London, England, were also present.
Many of the individuals who attended the Tribune Biscuit Brunch and Sneaker Ball called it one of the most uplifting and enjoyable social events they have ever attended. Chatham County Chairman Al Scott commended the individuals who were present to show their appreciation and support for The Savannah Tribune. He commended the businesses and institutions that are sponsors of the event and applauded those who utilize the Black Press for their advertising.
NNPA President and legendary Civil Rights leader Ben Chavis saluted the tremendous heritage of the Black Press and The Tribune and said that our communities and the nation need the Black Press today more than ever. He praised the Tribune staff for the unique and ingenious idea of celebrating in our sneakers so that our feet will be comfortable. Then, to the cheers of the audience, he said that we need to keep the momentum going and wear our sneakers to the polls in November for the largest voter turnout in history.