Launa Quincy Newman, the guiding light of this newspaper for more than 30 years, passed away on Tuesday, February 3, at the age of 87. Without her strength, perception and single-minded dedication to continuing the mission of her husband, founding publisher and editor Cecil E. Newman, the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder would very likely not exist today.
The newspaper’s staff, writers and readers join Mrs. Newman’s devoted family and many friends in mourning her loss.
Launa Newman was born in Topeka, Kansas, on December 30, 1921, the second child of four born to Gilber Quincy and his wife Ethel. Launa’s father owned a tailoring business. When she was two, the family relocated to Des Moines, Iowa, where Gilber established his tailoring and cleaning business on State Street.
Newman grew up in Des Moines, eventually attending business school and meeting and marrying her first husband, Wallace O’Neal Jackman. Two children were born of this union, Norma Jean Williams and Wallace “Jack” Jackman.
Newman moved to Minneapolis in 1958, where nine years later, in 1967, she married her second husband, Cecil Earl Newman. Newman had founded his two newspapers, the Minneapolis Spokesman and the St. Paul Recorder, in 1934. By the time he and Launa were married, Newman had become a prominent leader among Black Minnesotans, active on corporate boards and in political circles as well as publishing the leading Black newspapers.
“I wanted to help him in his business,” Mrs. Newman recalled of those days. “My father was a successful businessman in downtown Des Moines, Iowa, before it was popular for Blacks to be in business. I knew what it meant to be a small businessman. I knew the problems and sacrifices involved.”
Newman told her husband, “I am impressed by your stamina and dedication, and by the fact that you want to help so many people with so little pay in return for yourself.” Cecil was dedicated to serving the community as a leader and newspaperman. Launa recognized and respected his commitment and did what she could to provide support and economize on the home front.
Eventually Newman felt called to do more. “I recognized his need for help, and I knew that he could not afford to hire new people at that time. I started working the circulation area and later helped by relieving him of some of the tedious telephone contact work he had to do. Then I got into the management area, reorganizing the staff and office procedures into a system that remains successful for the paper.”
Cecil was often too preoccupied with his editorial duties to attend to management details. Launa compensated for that deficiency with her own direct, no-nonsense style: “There was a job that had to be done, and there was only one way to do it — the complete way. The right way.”
Newman spent seven years as the newspapers’ office manager and Cecil Newman’s business confidant before his death in 1976. “It was easy to work with Newman because he was my very best friend,” she recalled. “And because he was my best friend, it was quite easy for him to be my husband.”
Cecil E. Newman passed away on February 2, 1976, and Launa inherited the business. She had little time to deal with the trauma of Cecil’s loss before confronting the company’s books: “It was a financial shock. I had to let staff go and utilize all the free help I could get from family and friends who were already closely associated with the paper under [Cecil] Newman’s direction.”
Among those let go were longtime employees who operated the typesetting and printing departments for 20 years based on the by-then obsolete practice of hot-metal composition. Modernizing production from the old composition system to the offset printing system was one of Newman’s earliest challenges as she set out to prove those wrong who doubted she could keep the newspapers alive. “I am not a successful businesswomen yet,” she said back then, “but I am learning.”
What helped Newman through those difficult times was her strong faith. “I believe in prayer. I believe it was the prayers of the many people around me that made it possible for me to continue the paper. I walked surrounded by faith and hope. There were times when I felt that nothing could hurt me.”
Under Newman’s guidance, the newspapers remained a vital, influential force in the community. For a time, Cecil Newman’s son Oscar Newman served as co-publisher and chief editor. Norma Jean Williams and Wallace Jackman increasingly assumed responsibilities for the company, seeing it through another technical evolution to the computerized publishing system now in place, remodeling the facility to accommodate more staff, and merging the two newspapers into a single publication, the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.
Williams and Jackman became co-publishers of the newspaper as Mrs. Newman delegated greater authority to them, freeing her up for more community work and time to enjoy her friends. She served on the board of the Minneapolis Boy’s Club, was affiliated with the Hennepin County Service Organization, and worked with the Courage Center. She was a member of the Minneapolis Women’s Club and involved in as many as six bridge clubs at a time. Mrs. Newman remained active with many other civic and social organizations and entertained a wide circle of friends and acquaintances.
Tracey Williams, who worked at the newspapers as a child, also became more active with the business, eventually becoming president and CEO. In 2007, Newman sold the business to granddaughter Tracey and officially retired from direct involvement. Even in retirement, however, she kept a close eye on the newspaper and did not hesitate to notify her co-publishers, CEO and editor when something was amiss and needed immediate attention.
Spokesman-Recorder Senior Contributing Writer Matthew Little was on the scene to observe Mrs. Newman’s assumption of the publishing duties after her husband’s death.
“The history of the Spokesman and Recorder newspapers is synonymous with the history of African Americans in the state of Minnesota,” Little said. “Not only have they documented and archived the Black presence and mobility in the state, but over the years they have played a central advocacy role in African American progress.
“When their founder and legendary leader, Cecil E. Newman, passed on, fears were raised among many that it would mark the end of the publications and the progressive community status it had engendered. But Mrs. Launa Newman was determined to keep alive the legacy created by her deceased husband.
“She not only preserved the publications and their position in the community, but she expanded it,” said Little. “In so doing, she quietly and unobtrusively established a legacy of her own.”
In the 32 years since the death of her husband, the newspaper, under the direction of Mrs. Newman and with the support of family and staff, has successfully carried on the tradition of its founder. The Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder remains the state’s oldest African American publication and the oldest surviving Black business in Minnesota.
In addition to her proud record of persistence in the face of adversity, Launa Newman leaves as her legacy a large and loving family. She is the mother of two, the grandmother of nine, the great-grandmother of 21, and the great-great-grandmother of three children.
Services for Mrs. Launa Q. Newman will be held on Monday, February 9th at:
St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral (across the street from Loring Park)
519 Oak Grove Street
Minneapolis, MN 55403
Visitation: 10am – 11am
Services: 11am – 12:30pm
For information regarding service location, dates and times, contact Estes Funeral Chapel, 612-521-6744.
Jerry Freeman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.