Those who represent the African Diaspora mourn the loss of visionaries whose voices have been silenced with their deaths in 2019. Still, one can find reasons to celebrate as their contributions and commitment to the Black community continue to impact our lives and encourage future generations.
As we call the roll of men and women who shattered ceilings and broke down barriers, several names immediately come to mind: Toni Morrison, Diahann Carroll, Frank Robinson, Jessye Norman, Elijah Cummings, John Conyers, John Witherspoon, the Rev. Clay Evans, Ernest Gaines and Father George Clements.
And for those who recognize the significance of the Black Press, from John B. Russwurm and Samuel Cornish, whose Freedom’s Journal served as the nation’s first Black newspaper upon its debut on March 16, 1827, to legendary publications including North Star, Amsterdam News, Pittsburgh Courier, Memphis Free Speech and the Chicago Defender, the recent death of Garth Basil Coleridge Reeves Sr. marks the conclusion for one of the most respected “newsmen” in the industry.
Reeves, publisher emeritus of the oldest and largest Black-owned newspaper in the Southeast, “The Miami Times,” established in 1923 by his father, Henry Ethelbert Sigismund Reeves, died Nov. 25 at the age of 100.
But as is evident in the comments that follow from those who knew Garth Reeves well, his light and legacy continue to shine brightly, lighting the way for others equally committed to the mission of the Black Press as stated by the publishers of “Freedom’s Journal” who when asked about the need for their own publication replied, “We wish to plead our own cause.”
Henry Crespo Sr., former columnist, The Miami Times:
I was working as a campaign volunteer for Rep. Elaine Gordon (D-Fla.) during the late 80s and early 90s and one day she asked me to drop off an important package to Mr. Reeves at his home in Miami Shores. It would be my first opportunity to meet him and she emphasized it would be good for me to get to know him. The conversation was unforgettable and his home was simply beautiful, particularly the chandelier that hung in the foyer. About a year or two later, I saw him again – this time at The Miami Times. He gave me my first shot at writing a column in the paper after I shared a few thoughts that were on my mind. He didn’t know me that well but he believed I could make a positive contribution. That was him – the kind of man who was willing to open doors for people.
Barbara Anders, niece of the Rev. Jeff Rogers, a FAMU classmate of Reeves:
The Rev. Jeff Rogers, my uncle, and Garth Reeves were classmates at FAMU and were very close friends. My uncle, under the auspices of his New Birth Foundation, was working to save Howard Thurman’s home in Daytona and Mr. Reeves provided the finances that made the effort possible. My uncle often said how much he admired Mr. Reeves’ intellect and his willingness to continue the family business with the newspaper and the success he achieved.
Cleo L. Jollivette, 66, niece of Garth Reeves:
I live in Miami; Uncle Garth was my mother’s brother. He was many things to many people: activist, journalist, businessman, mentor, trailblazer, financier, powerbroker – the list goes on. But to me, he was just “Uncle Garth.” My father was lost at sea in the Florida Keys on a fishing trip when I was 6. After that tragic incident, Uncle Garth stepped in to try and fill a tremendous void in my young life. He visited often, especially because our drugstore/residence was next door to The Miami Times. During my youth, I spent a lot of free time at “The Shop” with my grandfather, H.E.S. Reeves and Uncle Garth. It was all fascinating and fun. I shared many fabulous outings with my uncle and cousins. In the early 1960s, when Blacks folks really didn’t go to Miami Beach for shows, we were there to see The Supremes and The Temptations. Uncle Garth even brought Sammy Davis, Jr. to my house for cocktails with Billy Rowe and he autographed my bedroom wall. I think I was 13. He was always available for me for whatever or whenever I was in need or want.
Dorothy Jenkins Fields, Ph.D., Historian, Certified Archivist:
I knew Garth for more than 50 years – people like him were rare. He could discuss community issues and help resolve problems with groups in Overtown and Liberty City (two of Miami’s poorest “colored towns”) in the morning and by the afternoon, he’d be chairing a meeting on Miami Beach for the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce (one of Miami’s richest neighborhoods). His range of intellect, power and influence stretched from “cabbage to kings,” touching the entire community including FAMU, his alma mater for which he served as a devoted and self-described “cheerleader.” As the editor and publisher of the Miami Times his contributions and leadership impacted the entire community and improved the quality of life for countless men, women and children. Both of our families attended the Church of the Incarnation which he attended and supported regularly and faithfully. A framed Bible verse hung behind his desk: “In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your paths smooth.” Garth’s legacy is the good he did to inspire others and to improve the community. He’s already greatly missed; he’ll always be remembered.
Mother Elizabeth W. Ham, 92:
I miss him a lot but when God is ready for us, we must answer the call. Our birthdays were on the same day, Feb. 12, and we always found a way to celebrate together – he always made time. I moved into my home near St. Agnes in 71. We always acted silly together, like two little children even though he was such a busy man. This year we marked our birthdays by wearing red.
G. Eric Knowles, president/CEO, Miami Dade Chamber of Commerce:
I first met Mr. Reeves in 1997 – I was 20 and had just gotten out of the army. What I remember most about him is that he was always kind and a gentleman. That memory is important is it reminds me that you can have power and still be kind. I was working on putting together an event prior to his death – an evening with Garth Reeves– for us to learn more about him and the things he stood for. He taught me that humility doesn’t cost anything and that we should always remain humble. Because of him and others like him, including Father Gibson and M. Athalie Range, I am able to do the things I do today for our community. I’ll always remember an event, the M. Athalie Range Foundation Gala, where Mr. Reeves was being honored and I had to escort him off the stage because he wouldn’t stop talking.
Dr. Benjamin Chavis Jr., president/CEO, NNPA:
Garth Reeves leaves an outstanding legacy as a freedom fighter. publisher and intergenerational civil rights leader in Miami, across the state of Florida, the U.S. and the Caribbean. He led the National Newspaper Publishers Association and The Miami Times to the highest levels of uncompromising excellence in journalism and service to the progress and empowerment of African Americans.
Rep. Frederica S. Wilson, Miami Gardens:
I grew up knowing Garth as did so many others in the Dade County community. When I decided to enter the world of politics, running for a school board seat, he was extremely supportive – even co-endorsing me and my opponent, David Williams whom I defeated. While serving on the boar I had the opportunity to name an elementary school after his father, Henry E.S. Reeves, the newspaper’s founder. I was close to the family because his and mine were natives of the Bahamas – most of us are kinfolks in some way. During our last conversation, he said he was happy to have lived to see the first Black president of the U.S. He was extremely interested in national and international news, especially news about Trump, and was very supportive when Trump attacked me. He said, “Freddie, I don’t know how much time God is going to give me, but this is a very exciting time.” Because of our friendship, I’ll take with me his advice on how to be a consummate leader and how to not let outside influences deter you from your mission. Be on a mission not on a timeline. As African-American people, we should always work for the betterment of our community, our people, our legacy, our possibilities and the future of our children who will inherit this Earth. His greatest achievement was keeping the Miami Times moving as a vibrant instrument – alive through riots, economic downturns and the Depression as a vehicle for Blacks to better understand America. We had the Miami Herald and the Daily News but they never covered our events. The Miami Times was the paper that kept African Americans connected and informed.
Carmen Morris, Office of Commissioner Xavier L. Suarez, Miami-Dade County:
I met Mr. Reeves when I was a student at Miami Edison High School where I was on the newspaper staff. He gave me a column in the paper so I could write about campus activities. He was a generous person with a heart for the community. After graduating from Miami-Dade and on my way to Howard University’s School of Communications, he gave me a scholarship. Years later, he hired my PR firm to handle the Times’ 75th anniversary celebration. Because of his example, I continue to pay it forward every chance I get. He never let our community down and always had a smile on his face.