The History of the Kansas City Call

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Someone has said, "An organization is but the lengthened shadow of one man." Behind any successful institution usually lies the guiding genius of an individual who had a dream and a plan.

The Call is no exception. Chester A. Franklin founded The Call newspaper in April 1919 and remained its active head and guiding spirit for 36 years.

Mr. Franklin’s "dream" grew far beyond his fondest hopes. He wanted to build a strong newspaper, one that would provide leadership in the local community, but he did not envision that he would build so well that his brainchild would become one of the six largest African American weeklies in the country and the largest Black business in the Midwest. Yet, this is what has happened since that day in 1919 when Mr. Franklin issued the first copy of The Call with the members of his Paseo Y.M.C.A. volleyball team as the first subscribers.

In founding The Call and developing it through the years into a publication of national reputation, C.A. Franklin fulfilled an ambition of his father's. His father, George Franklin, started a newspaper in Omaha, The Enterprise, to make a business opportunity for his son. When George Franklin became ill, his son Chester took over the business and found himself editor, printer and distributor. The family moved to Denver and there published another newspaper, called The Star. After his father’s death in 1901, Chester Franklin continued to publish the paper until 1913 when he decided to pursue publishing to a larger African American populace in Kansas City.

Franklin came to Kansas City with a definite idea of starting a newspaper, however, the start of World War I delayed his plans. He opened a printing shop at 14th and Main Street, now the heart of Kansas City’s busy Downtown district. While "kicking" the job presses there, he awaited the day he would launch another newspaper. He moved his shop to 1008 East 18th Street, closer to the growing African American community in the 18th and Vine District. Next, he moved his business to 1309 East 18th Street. A short time later, he moved to a 20 by 40 foot room at 1311 East 18th Street, and The Call newspaper was born.

Franklin’s reputation as a printer was highly regarded and when he announced to his associates that he was going to begin publishing a newspaper, many people subscribed before the first printing. The maiden issue of The Call was a four-page sheet. 2,000 copies were printed and sold for 5 cents a copy.

The first years were not to come easy. Franklin had to teach himself and his printer to operate the newspaper’s first typesetting machine, the Linotype, because the local printer’s union did not permit its members to work for African American editors. Mr. Franklin’s most vocal supporter, his mother Clara Bell Franklin, worked side by side with her son in building the newspaper. She went from door to door in the evenings selling subscriptions to The Call and kept detailed records of The Call’s circulation.

In 1922, The Call’s present home at 1715 East 18th Street was purchased. During that time, The Call’s employees set their own type, but the paper was printed by outside shops, first by Fuenstueck Press and later by Western Newspaper Union. The year 1924 marked the purchase of a new press, a Deluxe Web Perfecting press, which was publicly announced in a front-page story. By 1927, this arrangement was not meeting The Call’s growing circulation and in 1928 Franklin installed his first rotary press, the 32-page Goss Press. By now C.A. Franklin felt this was as large a press as he would ever need! However, in 1945, an addition to The Call’s building was erected to accommodate the 64-page four unit Hoe Press.

Franklin had set a high standard for his newspaper and wanted it kept free of gossip and tabloid sensationalism. From The Call’s inception, news policy has been constructive, presenting the achievements and worthwhile happenings among the African American community, rather than crime and other stereotypical aspects of the news. Mrs. Ada Crogman Franklin believed The Call’s most outstanding asset was its reputation for accurate and truthful reporting.

The Call covered both local and national news in the early years. Today as in the past, The Call’s coverage includes events in the Black community of Kansas City and the nation, news of local churches and upcoming performances, sports, graduations, marriages, and deaths.

Through the years, The Call has continued to urged the community to be politically empowered and to speak out on issues affecting the welfare of African American people. Through its columns, it has led campaigns against lynchings, the Ku Klux Klan, and police brutality. It also fought segregation and discrimination in education, housing, employment, and the use of public facilities.

Upon the death of Mr. Franklin in 1955, his wife, Mrs. Ada Crogman Franklin, became owner and publisher of The Call. The Call is now owned and published by Ms. Lucille Bluford and Mr. Reuben Benton.

Sources:
Kansas City Call Newspaper Anniversary Issues from 1938, 1959, 1979 and 1989.