Business & Tech

Newspaper criticized for using name of historic black weekly

William Monroe Trotter, who was raised in Hyde Park and was a graduate of Harvard University, founded The Guardian in 1901, and was a backer of abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison.
Ebony Magazine
William Monroe Trotter, who was raised in Hyde Park and was a graduate of Harvard University, founded The Guardian in 1901, and was a backer of abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison.

The publisher of a new community newspaper for Back Bay has come under fire for naming his publication The Boston Guardian, which was also the name of a historic African-American weekly that published in the first half of the 20th century.

David Jacobs launched the newspaper in April after recently closing his previous newspaper, The Boston Courant, which covered several downtown neighborhoods.

Melvin B. Miller, publisher of The Bay State Banner, a weekly newspaper covering Boston’s minority neighborhoods, said Jacobs’ choice of names was inappropriate.

Globe Staff/File 2009
Melvin B. Miller, publisher of The Bay State Banner, was critical of the new publication taking on the Boston Guardian name.
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“The publisher of the Boston Courant has brazenly decided to call his weekly ‘The Boston Guardian,’ a name that is sacrosanct in Boston’s African-American community,” Miller said in a post on his newspaper’s website. “The publisher’s decision represents a profound insensitivity both to Boston’s African-American community and the history of Boston journalism.”

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Jacobs said he was dumbfounded by Miller’s assertion, and was surprised that Miller did not reach out to him before his online post.

“My mouth dropped open,” Jacobs said. “That I committed some sort of sacrilege, that is not the way I operate and that’s not the sort of person I am.”

The Guardian newspaper was founded in 1901 by William Monroe Trotter at a time when black-owned Boston newspapers were flourishing, covering African-American issues that were ignored by mainstream newspapers. The Guardian published until the mid 1950s.

Trotter, who was raised in Hyde Park, was a Harvard graduate and activist for civil rights who admired William Lloyd Garrison, editor of The Liberator, an abolitionist newspaper published in Boston in the 1800s. He used the Guardian to shed light on injustices against African-Americans, including segregation.

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Another African-American Boston newspaper in the late 1800s was The Boston Courant, the name Jacobs used for his previous weekly, founded in 1995. He said he did not hear any objections to his use of the Courant name at the time, and he questions the controversy over the Guardian name.

Jacobs said he wasn’t concerned about using Boston Guardian because the original hasn’t been published for more than 60 years and because the name is not trademarked. Asked if he would consider changing it, Jacobs replied, “Heck no.”

Miller said in an interview that Jacobs should not have used the Guardian name, particularly knowing its history.

“That shows he is an insensitive guy,” Miller said.

Barbara Lewis, director of the University of Massachusetts Boston’s William Monroe Trotter Institute, said she finds Jacobs’ use of the Guardian name disrespectful, and hopes it opens the door to larger discussions about underlying issues of inequality in the city. Jacobs’ Guardian serves Boston’s wealthiest neighborhoods, including Back Bay and Beacon Hill, which doesn’t reflect the name’s legacy, Lewis said.

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“If he feels he’s entitled to the name, then I think he should give some acknowledgment to the history and significance of the Boston Guardian,” she said.

Shirley Leung of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Katheleen Conti can be reached at kconti@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @GlobeKConti.