Guess who’s eligible to start earning Social Security? It’s somewhat astonishing to think about, but in a couple of months, it would be socially acceptable if The Leader announced its retirement.
That’s right. In 1954, a couple of fellows – disgruntled at their employer (the Houston Chronicle) – started The Leader to cover this area of Houston. A man named Lee Burge then took over the operation, and after his untimely death, his 19-year-old son, Terry Burge, ran The Leader for more than 40 years, when he sold it to our company in 2012.
In the lead-up to an exciting “celebration” we’ll have later this year, I’ve spent some time researching the historic milestones of 1954.
Chief among them was the U.S. Supreme Court’s unanimous ruling in Brown vs. Board of Education that segregating our schools was unconstitutional. That happened 65 years ago.
Closer to home, Harris County District Clerk Chris Daniels recently noted that 1954 marked the first year women were allowed to serve on juries in Harris County. Talk about bringing some sanity to our judicial system.
In 1954, Houston had a one-term, beloved mayor known as The Judge, Roy Hofheinz, who (among many other things) helped bring the Colt .45 baseball franchise to Houston a few years later.
Speaking of media: In 1954, KTRK (ABC13) signed onto the air for the first time.
In the sports world, Rice University was one of the best football teams in the state, along with Baylor and Texas Tech. In 1954, Rice finished 7-3, which included wins over Texas A&M (29-19) and the Texas Longhorns (13-7). The Aggies finished 1-9 that year, while UT finished 4-5-1.
In fact, the biggest news out of Austin in 1954 wasn’t the Longhorns’ record. Rather, it was one football game they played on Oct. 2, when Washington State brought a blazing running back named Duke Washington to Memorial Stadium.
Back then, UT had a rule that no African-Americans could play for or against Texas. Washington State refused to play if Duke Washington wasn’t allowed on the field. He was allowed to play – the first black athlete to play against the Longhorns – and he had a 73-year touchdown run in a loss to UT.
That story has a local connection as longtime Heights businessman Howard Moon was a member of the Longhorn team, and he speaks glowingly of Duke Washington any chance he can.
Who can do a “This Year in History” piece without some famous birthdays? Actor/director Ron Howard, Oprah Winfrey and Jerry Seinfeld were all born 65 years ago. So were Christie Brinkley, Denzel Washington and Yanni, if we’re going to mention the pretty people. The smartest person born that year, in my opinion, was Condoleezza Rice.
Nationally, 1954 marked the infamous McCarthy Senate Hearings on ties between the U.S. Army and the Communists. That same year, the Dow Jones Industrial Average hit an all-time high of 382 points. And in 1954, the first mass polio vaccination of children happened.
Over the past few months, we’ve started to have discussions around our office on how to celebrate a local newspaper that has found a way to keep the doors open for 65 years. Sure, there are many newspapers that have been around longer, but in our business these days, each day is a victory.
If you don’t believe me, try this on for size: In the past 15 years, more than 1,800 local newspapers have closed their doors as small businesses have moved most of their advertising dollars to Google and Facebook.
And if you think that’s just a myth, a report was released last week that said Google earned $4.7 billion in advertising revenue last year alone from people searching for news stories on the search engine. It’s absolutely confounding this Google and Facebook business model: News stories written by journalists paid by companies like ours or the Chronicle or any other news company, and Google and Facebook make the money from people looking for that news.
But let’s not digress too much from the real story at hand: The Leader is turning 65, and in our Aug. 31 edition, we’re going to spend one week celebrating the milestone. We’ll talk to Terry Burge, along with former editors and employees. We’ll talk to businesses that used The Leader as a marketing tool to build successful businesses in our area. And we’re going to talk to as many people in our community as possible.
And that’s actually why I’m writing today’s column – to ask you, our readers, to help us celebrate making it all the way to retirement age.
No matter where we go around the Heights, Oak Forest, Garden Oaks and the other wonderful neighborhoods of North Houston, we constantly hear from people who tell us about their experiences with The Leader.
Without fail, we hear from people who tell us delivering The Leader on a bicycle was their first job. We hear from others who tell us they once wrote a story that appeared in The Leader. And then there are others who tell us they were once featured in The Leader and the story made a difference in their lives.
The problem is that, each time we’ve heard that, we haven’t had a notebook in hand ready to compile that information.
Because of that, I’m personally asking you to send us your stories about your interaction with The Leader. We’ve created an email address, firstname.lastname@example.org, and whether you were a carrier or wrote a story or had your story told, we’d like to include vignettes about as many people as possible.
So whether you know someone, or if you, yourself, were once part of The Leader pages, would you please send us an email?
In an era where local newspapers are slowly slipping away, we’re really proud of the longevity of The Leader. And we’d like to ask you to help us celebrate.