Charles Tisdale, an Alabama native who fought for civil rights as owner and publisher of Mississippi’s oldest black-owned newspaper, died Saturday. He was 80.
Tisdale collapsed last week while undergoing dialysis. He had been on life support until his family decided to take him off Saturday night.
Tisdale took over the Jackson Advocate in the late-1970s, and was an outspoken critic of elected officials, both black and white.
Activist Charles Evers, brother of slain civil rights leader Medgar Evers, said Tisdale was concerned about the welfare of all citizens, not just blacks.
For 20 years, Tisdale had a talk show on Evers’ radio station, WMPR in Jackson, where he often took elected leaders to task for not effectively serving their community.
“Before the Jackson Advocate, there was no coverage for black folks. Because of Mr. Tisdale’s stance and fight, the newspaper has enlightened us and is a vehicle to keep us informed,” Evers said.
Tisdale faced repercussions for his outspokenness. Tisdale often said he was the target of death threats. His newspaper office near downtown Jackson was firebombed at least twice. The latest was in 1998, when gasoline was poured over the furniture and molotov cocktails were thrown through windows.
The 1998 attack caused $100,000 in damage. Clinton Moses, of Jackson, later pleaded guilty to the crime and told authorities that a member of the Jackson City Council had paid him $500 to commit the firebombing. Then-council member Louis Armstrong was never charged in the case.
Despite sagging circulation, over the past five years, the newspaper has received several honors, including the National Black Chamber of Commerce Newspaper of the Year, the Nation of Islam Freedom Fighter Award and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference Journalism Award.
Over the years, the 50-cents-an-issue newspaper has faced many challenges, including dwindling circulation, which dropped from 17,000 in 2000 to its current 8,000. That’s only a fraction of the 425,000 people who live in the Jackson metropolitan area, which is about 43 percent black.
“The thing that has become more complex is African-Americans themselves. They no longer see the need to identify with their own race,” Tisdale told The Associated Press in a 2000 interview.
Born Nov. 5, 1926, in Athens, Ala., Tisdale purchased the Jackson Advocate in 1978 from the newspaper’s first owner, Percy Green.
Tisdale is survived by his wife, Alice, who is assistant publisher of the paper, and three children.
A family representative said there will be a viewing Friday and Saturday with a funeral scheduled for Saturday night. But funeral arrangements were incomplete Sunday.