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Newtown resident Johnny Hunter grew up in the Sarasota community and plans to spend the rest of his life there. He left the area for a while, but returned as an adult and went on to co-publish Tempo News, a weekly African American newspaper that has been in the Sarasota-Manatee region since 1987.
As part of our Telling Tampa Bay stories on Newtown, Hunter talks about the newspaper’s importance in the community and why he’ll never leave the neighborhood.
Tempo was initially started by the late William Fred Jackson, who started the Weekly Bulletin, which was the first black newspaper in Sarasota and Manatee County in 1959. I give him all the credit, the torch was just passed onto me.
Black newspapers in America are like the personal newspapers of black people. You know the daily newspapers, they cover general stuff, and usually, and it’s been an old adage, that the daily newspapers in the black communities, the only thing they really covered is who died and who went to jail. They never highlighted the good things that black people used to do.
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So I felt an obligation to keep that legacy going because it was a sense of pride, I felt like it was my paper, it was the community’s paper. In fact, our term is “the community’s paper,” that’s why I allow people to write the articles and submit for publication. I will stand behind them and will publish anything they write, good, bad or indifferent, as long as it was the truth and they had the facts to back it up.
Everybody looked for Tempo on Thursdays. Now we do have the World Wide Web, we have a webpage, Facebook, Instagram, and all that, well you got to step it up with the social media era advancement of the day. But Newtown just supports the paper, it’s their paper, it’s their pride. The (Sarasota) Herald Tribune isn’t their paper. Temple News is a community paper, I allow people to become freelance writers and to share their stories, that’s what makes it different. And it’s the black pride.
To an extent we still have got black pride, but you know something, we never even had a black on the school board in Sarasota County. Manatee County has had several blacks on the school board. Yes there’s a lot of racism here, you understand, but it’s getting better.
I know when I got back here in ’83 I started seeing a lot of white folks. There were hardly no white folks out here in Newtown, but now it’s blending. And you’re not going to stop it, the cat’s out of the bag.
You know we don’t even have a soul food restaurant in Newtown, and we used to have them. It’s a lot of stuff through evolution, things change.
See me, I don’t care if I became a multi-millionaire, you know where I’d live at? Still in Newtown. But when they become multi-millionaires, they move. I mean let’s keep it real, now, they move. Me I wouldn’t move.
I had a friend of mine, he’s dead now, he was a ceramic tile seller, made a lot of money. He said, “You know something Johnny, with the kind of money I make I could move into any white neighborhood I want,” he said. But he said “I don’t want to, I want to help develop my neighborhood.”
So you’ve got to have a strong commitment to develop your neighborhood, quit running to Lakewood Ranch and Bird Key and everywhere else, develop this neighborhood.
Telling Tampa Bay Stories is an annual series WUSF has produced for the past four years that highlights different communities around the region people may not always hear about. We tell these stories with help from the people who call these places home. This year focuses on Newtown, one of the first African American communities in Sarasota.
The series is produced in partnership with University of South Florida journalism students. WUSF reporter Stephanie Colombini and USF student journalist Garnet Brown Gordon-Somers contributed to this story. Conversations were recorded at the Robert L. Taylor Community Complex in Newtown.