Richmond Free Press founder and publisher, Raymond H. Boone, dies

Raymond H. Boone, founder and publisher of the Richmond Free Press, died of pancreatic cancer June 3 at the age of 76.

Boone established himself during a long and distinguished journalism career as a watchdog for the interests of Richmond’s black citizens and stridently strengthened black press throughout the country.

“Richmond lost a crusading journalist … with the death of Ray Boone,” Sen. Timothy M. Kaine, D-Va., said on Twitter.

As editor and vice president of the Baltimore-based Afro-American Newspaper Group, Boone was credited by Time Magazine with bringing “sophistication and verve” to the black press.

According to an obituary in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Boone participated in a project co-sponsored by The Virginia Council on Human Relations and the Afro-American Newspapers Inc. in 1969 to train 15 young black men and women for careers in newspapers to “challenge and confront racism apparent in many American newspapers – especially Southern newspapers.”

“He tried to fight injustice wherever he saw it,” his wife, Jean Boone, said in an interview with Style Weekly. “Without the Free Press, there would be no black voice in Richmond.”

Raymond Boone was recognized often for his efforts. He received the 2006 Oliver W. Hill Freedom Fighter Award (the highest honor bestowed by the Virginia NAACP); the 2006 DaimlerChrysler Entrepreneurial Award; and the 2005 A. Philip Randolph Messenger Award for “publishing excellence in civil rights.”

His contributions to the newspaper industry culminated with his April 2000 induction to the Virginia Communications Hall of Fame. He also won a 2006 first-place Virginia Press Association award in editorial writing.

“Raymond Boone was a singular figure in the history of journalism and politics in Virginia. His was a life devoted to justice, equality and a well-informed public discourse, and I know that commitment will live on thanks to his leadership at the Richmond Free Press,” Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe said in a statement, calling Boone a “true Virginia legend.”

VPA Executive Director Ginger Stanley called Boone a rock in the association’s defense to keep public notices in independent newspapers. She recalled several occasions that Boone’s efforts helped defeat bills that would have stripped public notices from newspapers.

Thomas A. Silvestri, publisher of the Richmond Times-Dispatch, said Boone often reminded people how important journalism is to a free society and an informed community.

“Mr. Boone was a passionate publisher, a hard-charging editor, a frank editorial writer and a crusading watchdog on behalf of what’s best for the city of Richmond,” Silvestri said. “Personally, I will miss our periodic publisher lunches where we debated the issues of the day and shared ideas about how to advance the newspaper business. They were always interesting and ended with a handshake, smiles and a promise to do it again.”

According to the Times-Dispatch, Boone’s thirst for journalism began when he was barred from watching a semi-pro baseball game because of his color. His start in the newspaper industry came as a reporter with the Suffolk News-Herald.

Boone also is a former associate professor of journalism at Howard University in Washington, D.C., where he taught for nine years before starting the Free Press in 1992.

Sen. Mark R. Warner, D-Va., in a written statement said Boone “represented the very best of aggressive, community-based advocacy journalism. Both in print and in his personal relationships, Mr. Boone consistently held all of us accountable – himself included. Ray Boone exemplified the old saying that newspapers are supposed to ‘comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.’”

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