MOBILE, Ala. (WALA) - According to Charles Porter, the late 1960s were a magical time in America, as first time career opportunities became available for many African Americans. Porter achieved several firsts in his lifetime from a teaching position to where he attended college for his masters.
He said, however, the one that happened in Mobile in 1968 was the one that started him on a career in the newspaper industry that lasted nearly 40-years. Porter recently shared about how it happened and where the opportunity has taken him.
"It was interesting to me, how God was preparing me for this, I took typing, and I was the only boy in typing. My first day at the Mobile Press Register, they sat me down at a desk and said, ‘Here's your typewriter.' It was a manual Underwood, so now it made sense why I took typing," Porter reflected.
Charles Porter made history as he sat down at the desk in the Mobile Press Register's newsroom. He was their first African-American reporter. Porter's love of the English language along with his typing ability helped prepare him for the historic appointment.
"My first real job teaching was at the school where I graduated from, Mobile County Training School. I loved language. I did the diagram that most teachers tried to avoid that, because you had to know the purpose of every word in a sentence. I had teachers who taught me, who would ask me questions," Porter said.
While teaching at the high school, Porter learned that as a student tests showed he had an aptitude for news reporting.
"It was clearly written on one of my test that I had aptitude in journalism and public relations. When I saw that, I said, ‘Well, this is it,'" he said.
He said he got a shot to test those skills really.
"The principal just walked in one day and said, ‘Mr. Porter, can you publish a student newspaper more than one time a year?' And I said, ‘Yes sir,' without even thinking. That really introduced me to what's beyond English," Porter said.
The student newspaper was Porter's first opportunity to serve as publisher and editor. He also taught journalism classes. Then in 1968, a local civil rights official offered Porter a job as a news reporter.
"Noble Beasley, President of the SCLC affiliate here in Mobile, an organization called Neighborhood Organized Workers, or N.O.W., asked me if I would fill that position with the Register. They had agreed to it, and I said yes. It was during that conversation when I learned that they had not had a black American as a news reporter. That was not my aim to be the first one frankly, I was fortunate," Porter recalled.
Porter said he wanted to covered civil rights regularly.
"I had to make sure that, that the story I intended to get out was in the top part of whatever I wrote because invariably the newspaper's city editor would take my story, and the 60 percent of it from the bottom would be torn off and thrown into the trash. That was his way, and I don't think he meant anything toward me. Because of my maturity level, I was able to deal with a lot of things. I don't look back with any remorse," he said.
Porter was a part of many firsts at during the time.
"We were able to get a picture of the first black American to be published in the bridal section of the newspaper. First time that ever happened. I have great memories of the Mobile Press Register," Porter shared.
Porter's desire to be a better journalist took him to Tuscaloosa and the University of Alabama for a master's degree.
"This is six years after Governor George Wallace stood in the door at the university and said we, meaning blacks, will not attend this school. Journalism and public relations was what I focused on at the Masters level at the University of Alabama. I also received a teaching assignment at the University of Alabama in 1969. According to one of my professors, I was the first black in the College of Communications. He said I could very well be the first black to teach at the University period," added Porter.
In the early 1970s, Porter worked in public relations at Tougaloo College in Mississippi and Northwestern University in Chicago. In 1974, a Mobile newspaper called him back to Mobile.
"I got a call from Mr. Frank Thomas who was editor and owner of the Mobile Beacon. He says, ‘I need somebody to take over my paper.' Well, I took it as an act of God. So I came to Mobile and took a huge salary cut and became the editor of the Mobile Beacon. After being there for a couple of years, I decided then that I needed to own my own newspaper. My first edition of the Innercity News was on the street January 7, 1977. I saw the role of Innercity News differently from any other newspaper. My basic interest was to have some impact on upward mobility of my people. It was an extension of what was in my heart, to show the correlations between crime, illiteracy and drugs. I was like someone crying out in the wilderness," said Porter.
Porter was publisher and editor of Innercity News for 30-years before closing it in 2007.
accepted a call to the ministry in the 1990s. Today Porter is still writing but with a higher purpose.
"The last decade of publishing the Innercity News, you will find God there. I had one of the largest religious sections, but that wasn't all what he wanted me to do. I can look back now and see how God orchestrated my life, my career; everywhere I went. Even before I got serious about Him, He blessed me," reflected Porter.
Charles Porter is currently serving as acting pastor at Friendship Missionary Baptist Church in west Mobile. The church's pastor is on military reserve assignment. Porter is also credited with helping start a third newspaper the "Mobile Call and Post" with the Neighborhood Organized Workers or "N.O.W." organization.
Porter's resume also includes two stints at Bishop State College where he retired from last year.
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