James Washington blazed paths in Black journalism

Promoted arts, public service
James Washington was CEO of The Atlanta Voice.

Credit: Courtesy photo

Credit: Courtesy photo

James Washington was CEO of The Atlanta Voice.

No matter the time, day or night, if you needed to talk with James Washington, he was ready to listen, whether you were talking about your spouse, your children or even a story idea for the next edition of The Atlanta Voice.

“He was very genuine in caring about the people he worked with, beyond the employee-boss relationship,” said Craig Allen Brown, who worked with Washington in 2018. “He was great to me as a young journalist. Our conversations would start small and then go from there, with him asking me if I was being the best husband, the best friend.”

James Alfred Washington, 73, president and general manager of The Atlanta Voice and a long-time advocate of Black media excellence had battled cancer in recent years. He died at home April 3. Black newspapers around the country carried the news of his passing, and many called him a trailblazer for the Black press.

“He led with love,” said Itoro Umontuen, managing editor of The Atlanta Voice. “And he was constantly looking for ways to innovate, ways to incorporate new technologies into making the paper better.”

Washington was born in Lafayette, Louisiana, to Frank Spencer Washington, Sr. and Cecelia Eva Burns Washington. He attended Southern University and A&M College in Baton Rouge, his mother’s alma mater, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in English and instructional media.

He then attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he graduated with a master’s degree in journalism. Washington served as a communications instructor at Tennessee State University, where Oprah Winfrey was one of his students.

From there, he went to KALO-AM (1250), a Little Rock radio station, and became news director. He moved to Dallas to work as public relations manager for the Dallas Ballet and for the American Heart Association National Center. His public relations firm, Focus Communications, bought the Dallas Weekly — the largest African American news weekly in North Texas.

In 2002, he married Janis Ware, publisher of The Atlanta Voice, whom he met through the National Newspaper Publishers Association. The two traveled back and forth from Dallas to Atlanta for years until Washington’s health situation demanded he be in Atlanta full-time. He turned over the Dallas Weekly to his son in 2019, the same year he received the Legacy Award from the National Association of Black Journalists.

“I didn’t know him intimately, but I know about his impact on the Atlanta community and how he helped young writers grow and develop,” said Ken Lemon, president of NABJ. “He was an ideal person to have at the top of a legacy paper. He knew how important the Black press is. It’s the first time people can see their community reflected back.”

Umontuen said he and Washington spent a week in 2020, at Facebook offices, “looking for ways to leverage video in our reporting and to drive the algorithm to our favor with video.” The Atlanta Voice expanded its digital presence to reach some 150,000 unique users and 200,000 monthly pageviews.

In 2003, Washington had been diagnosed with prostate cancer. He had a spiritual transformation and started writing a syndicated column called “Spiritually Speaking” for the Dallas Weekly and the Black Press of America. He wrote about his faith and the challenges of dealing with cancer. In 2019, his book “Spiritually Speaking, Reflections For and From a New Christian” was published.

He received awards in both journalism and public service. Washington was named man of the year in 1986 by the Dallas Metropolitan Club of Negro Business and Professional Women. He served on many boards in Dallas, including the Dallas Black Chamber of Commerce, the Dallas Arboretum, the United Way of Metropolitan Dallas, and the National Newspaper Publishers Association. His community service was honored by many including Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, United Way, Dallas Independent School District, Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center, the NAACP, Dallas Black Dance Theatre and the Dallas Museum of Arts.

“People won’t remember the awards or accolades he received,” said Stan Washington, editor at large for The Atlanta Voice. “Jim was a people person who could talk to anybody, whether they were a homeless person or the president of an airline. He could have an immediate connection with you and make you feel that you and he were about to become good friends. That’s his biggest legacy.”

In addition to his wife, James A. Washington is survived by his daughter, Elena Bonifay and her husband David Bonifay, his son Patrick Washington and his wife Jessica Washington, three grandchildren and nieces and nephews. A memorial service will be held Wednesday, April 10, at 11 a.m. at Elizabeth Baptist Church, 4245 Cascade Road in Atlanta.