Robert. C. Maynard was a trailblazing journalist who defied odds by becoming the first Black owner of a major newspaper on this day in 1983.
Maynard’s miraculous journey from high school dropout to becoming the editor and owner of The Oakland Tribune began with him chasing his dreams in the 1950s. Born June 17, 1937 in Brooklyn, New York to immigrant parents from Barbados, Maynard discovered a love of writing early on.
At 16, inspired by his love of courtroom reporting, Maynard dropped out of high school and began working for the New York Age, a former African-American news weekly. Maynard then reported for the Afro-American News in Baltimore before landing his first major job working for Pennsylvania’s York Gazette and Daily in 1961.
In 1965, the Neiman Foundation for Journalism awarded Maynard with a year-long fellowship. In 1967, Maynard joined The Washington Post and became the paper’s first Black national correspondent. In 1977, Maynard left The Post to open the University of California, Berkeley-based Institute for Journalism Education with his journalist wife, Nancy Hicks Maynard.
The center, which helps train minority students preparing for journalism careers and beyond, has since been renamed the Robert C. Maynard Institute for Journalism Education. Maynard joined the Oakland Tribune after being hired by the Gannett group. The paper serviced the mostly Black Oakland region and was failing miserably in comparison to larger, White-owned Bay Area publications.
Gannett, forced to sell the paper in 1983, went with Maynard because of his proven leadership and business savvy. The Maynard family owned the paper until Maynard’s cancer spread and circulation began to drop.
Though the Maynard family sold the paper in 1992, Robert remained on board as its publisher and editor until he succumbed to cancer the following year at age 56.
Maynard did not encourage students to follow his footsteps in leaving school.
“I say to young people today that they must stay in school. Autodidacts, self-teachers, are of another age, I tell them,” wrote Maynard in one of his popular Tribune columns.
Bay Area journalist Paul Cobb once said, “Maynard is to publishing what Jackie Robinson is to baseball.”