Charles Tisdale, was born in rural Athens, Alabama on November 7, 1926, he was one of a family of seventeen children. His father, William Jefferson Lincoln Tisdale Sr., worked the land until the farm was lost in the Great Depression of the 1930s; thereafter he supported his family through day jobs and yard work. Charles Tisdale remembered his father as a poet and songwriter, an intellectual who read three newspapers every day. Tisdale’s mother Winnie Tisdale was “a stern and courageous woman”, who insisted that her children stand up for their rights. She was a fierce defender of the family who “would shoot in a minute” and ask questions later. In her last letter to Charles Tisdale, she said, “Please send me a new pistol as mine is rusty”.
From the time he was 15, Tisdale worked the migrant circuit of tobacco farms, especially in Connecticut. However, at 18 he was able to enter college in Memphis, Tennessee, and began working at the Memphis World newspaper. Charles Tisdale took over the Jackson Advocate after he purchased it in 1978 from the newspaper’s first owner, Percy Green. From the beginning Tisdale was an outspoken critic of elected officials, both black and white.
Activist Charles Evers, brother of slain civil rights leader Medgar Evers, said Tisdale was
“…concerned about the welfare of all citizens, not just blacks.”
For 20 years, Tisdale had a talk show on Evers’ radio station, WMPR in Jackson, where he often took elected leaders to task for not effectively serving their community.
“Before the Jackson Advocate, there was no coverage for black folks. Because of Mr. Tisdale’s stance and fight, the newspaper has enlightened us and is a vehicle to keep us informed,” – Charles Evers, brother of slain civil rights leader Medgar Evers
“Before the Jackson Advocate, there was no coverage for black folks. Because of Mr. Tisdale’s stance and fight, the newspaper has enlightened us and is a vehicle to keep us informed,” Evers said.
Tisdale faced repercussions for his outspokenness. He was often said he was the target of death threats. His newspaper office near downtown Jackson was firebombed. The latest was in 1998, when gasoline was poured over the furniture and molotov cocktails were thrown through windows.
The 1998 attack caused $100,000 in damage. Clinton Moses, of Jackson, later pleaded guilty to the crime and told authorities that a member of the Jackson City Council had paid him $500 to commit the firebombing. Then-council member Louis Armstrong was never charged in the case.
Charles Tisdale made a commitment to ensure the newspaper survived Klu Klux Klan bombings, and attacks from media outlets. The paper called it like it saw it, and it was challenging, and chastising.
“… I carry a lot of Mr. Tisdale with me … The biggest gift he gave me was understanding what it meant to be committed to something.” – Ben Jealous, NAACP president
The paper encouraged discourse, critical debate, and understood the importance of having a voice for community ideas in his article “Tisdale’s Topics.”
Despite sagging circulation, the newspaper has received several honors, including the National Black Chamber of Commerce Newspaper of the Year, the Nation of Islam Freedom Fighter Award and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference Journalism Award.
Over the years, the 50-cents-an-issue newspaper has faced many challenges, including dwindling circulation, which dropped from 17,000 in 2000 to its current 8,000. That’s only a fraction of the 425,000 people who live in the Jackson metropolitan area, which is about 43 percent African-American.
“The thing that has become more complex is African-Americans themselves. They no longer see the need to identify with their own race,” Tisdale told The Associated Press in a 2000 interview.
The Charles Tisdale Award For Excellence In Reporting will be given each year to a Harlem publication, writer and/or web-site that:
… calls it, like he sees it, and (he) is challenging …
At the Harlem World Festival.