"When Thomas J. Sellers founded the Reflector, a weekly newspaper for African-Americans published in Charlottesville between 1931 and 1935, he wrote that his aim was not to cover all the news but to 'reflect the progress of our community and Race.'
Seventy years later, a pair of local entrepreneurs have dusted off the Reflector nameplate, but with a slightly different mission statement. In March, Corey Carter and Waki Wynn jumped into the crowded Charlottesville publishing market with the first issue of the new African American Reflector.
'We thought the name would be a great tribute to Thomas Sellers,' says Carter, the Reflectors 31-year-old editor. By reviving the Reflector name, the bi-monthly paper intentionally highlights the contrast between Charlottesvilles black community in the Jim Crow 30s and its black community today.
Back then, Charlottesville incubated one of the most progressive centers of black culture anywhere in the South. The most popular columns from old issues of the Reflector are society pages full of the comings and goings of black elites, focusing on names that are still familiar today: Coles, Bell, Tonsler, Inge and Jackson. Now, however, Carter laments the decline of the citys black culturesealed with the destruction of Vinegar Hill in the 60s, Carter believesand the current paucity of black-owned businesses and nightspots.
'Charlottesville has a hard time keeping black professionals,' says Carter. 'I have successful friends who say I love Charlottesville, but what am I going to do here? Theyve gone off to D.C. or Richmond or Atlanta.'
Carter and Wynn have stayed, remaining here after growing up together in Charlottesville. Carter left briefly to teach English in Baltimore public schools, dreaming of owning a newspaper before returning home. Meanwhile Wynn went through a succession of home-based businesses like Amway, Primerica and Quixtar. He also started a lawn-care business and tried selling vending machines and printing t-shirts before working for the ill-fated Internet company Value America. He started Wacky Entertainment, through which he has put on jazz and rnb shows around town.
It was at one of those shows that Carter and Wynn decided to start a newspaper.
'We saw the issue about the lack of entertainment venues as hand-in-hand with the issue of a newspaper,' says Carter. 'We need more culture.'
The Reflector staff includes just Carter, Wynn and his wife, Traci, the papers staff writer. The free paper claims a circulation of about 6,000 and distributes in about 70 sites in Charlottesville, Albemarle and surrounding counties. Like the old Reflector, the new paper counts on an audience of liberal white readers as well as blacks.
'The boxes in Forest Lakes are always empty,' says Carter. 'About half our e-mails are from white readers saying Thank you.'
The content includes 'From the Editor' comments on local events and calls for black activism, and 'Reflections,' a section that reprints articles from the old Reflector as well as writings from black scholars such as David Walker and W.E.B. DuBois. The paper has taken an aggressive stand on the achievement gap issue in City and County schools, asking: 'Are the futures of black students being gambled away the minute black parents send their children to public schools? The numbers suggest yes.'
Even as the upstart Reflector stumps for more local black culture, they face competition from the 50-year-old Charlottesville-Albemarle Tribune. That paper is currently wrapped up in a legal drama in which former ad rep Rosanna Harris sued publisher Agnes Cross-White for $1 million, alleging Cross-White lied about the Tribunes circulation. Cross-White contends the lawsuit is frivolous and claims Harris forged checks and stole her car.
About the time the old Reflector made its debut, the Daily Progress published two newspapers, one with white society news and the other with black society news. In an editorial, Sellers challenged anyone offended by segregation to support the Reflector. 'So, unless those protestors cooperate with this, their own weekly paper,' he wrote, 'I shall be forced to believe that they are only jokers.'
Carter and Wynn dont make such explicit challenges, but the subtext of the new Reflector is an appeal to the citys older, middle-class black population to come out and rebuild a culture in Charlottesville.
'Thats a big issue,' says Wynn. 'If we just wanted to make money,
we wouldnt have started a newspaper.'" (John Borgmeyer, C-Ville
Weekly, September 16, 2003)