Marjorie Parham with photographer Gordon Parks. Photo provided
By Herald Staff
Mrs. Marjorie Parham, publisher emerita of The Cincinnati Herald and, and widow of founder Gerald Porter, passed peacefully in her sleep on Wednesday, April 14. She was 103.
She was born in Clermont County, Batavia and went to Batavia Elementary and High School. She attended Wilberforce University, the University of Cincinnati and Chase School of Business. Mrs. Parham worked for the federal government from 1946 until 1961. During that time she was married first to William Spillers, and they had a son, William Spillers, Jr. Later, she married Hartwell Parham. In 1954, Mrs. Parham married Gerald Porter and he founded The Cincinnati Herald, a weekly African American newspaper, in 1955. The company opened a Dayton office and Mrs. Parham began running that office in 1961.
In 1963, Gerald Porter was in a car accident. He was taken to one hospital which refused to treat him because he was Black, as stated to her by one of the nurses. Mr. Porter then was transported to another hospital. By the time he reached the second hospital, it was too late, and Mr. Porter died.
Rather than shut down the newspapers, Mrs. Parham jumped in to save the business. She closed the Dayton office and then called the White House to ask if her son could be discharged from the Army so that he could help her run The Cincinnati Herald. Bill Spillers was sent home. He and his mother ran The Cincinnati Herald until it was purchased by Sesh Communications in 1996.
A few years before selling the Herald, its office on Lincoln Avenue in Walnut Hills was firebombed. Mrs. Parham said the culprit never was caught but she believed it was someone who was upset about an editorial that had been recently published. No one was hurt, but many of the archived photos were lost.
“We still published the paper that week,” Parham said. She added that the publisher of The Cincinnati Enquirer, Harry Whipple, was the first one to call her after the bombing. He asked her what she needed to get the paper out, and stood by ready to help. “That shows the respect and admiration that she had in the media community,” said Jan-Michele Lemon Kearney, president of current Herald owner, Sesh Communications.
Mrs. Parham was active in the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA), an organization of more than 200 Black-owned newspapers across the country, and previously served as treasurer on the executive board. She also served on several boards in Cincinnati, including the University of Cincinnati Board of Trustees. Mrs. Parham was an avid golfer and loved her golf group, Les Birdies. She enjoyed travel and in her later years, often took trips with her long-time friend, John Leahr, a Tuskegee Airman, before he passed. Mrs. Parham was a member of St. Andrews Episcopal Church in Evanston.
She has been inducted into the Ohio Women’s Hall of Fame and the Ohio Civil Rights Hall of Fame. The Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber named her a Great Living Cincinnatian in 2007. In 2015, when The Cincinnati Herald marked its 60th year of publication, the city honored her with a resolution presented by Councilmember Yvette Simpson. In 2019, when the National Newspaper Publishers Association held its national convention in Cincinnati, the organization honored Mrs. Parham. Sen. Bernie Sanders was the keynote speaker and former State Sen. Nina Turner spoke as well. Dr. Benjamin Chavis, president of the National Newspaper Publishers Association, spoke about Mrs. Parham’s importance to the NNPA, the Black press, and the Black community.
“She was feisty, a brilliant businesswoman, and a mentor for me and so many others,” said Kearney. “Mrs. Parham was a staunch advocate for the Black community and believed in the importance of the Black press to provide a forum for the community’s diverse views and as a platform to tell our own story.”
Kearney added, “Above all, she was a fighter for justice.” During the civil unrest in 2001 following the police shooting of 19-year-old Timothy Thomas, Mrs. Parham paraphrased Thomas Jefferson in saying, “A little revolution now and then is a good thing.”
Current Herald publisher Walter L. White admired her tenacity. “After Mr. Porter died in1963, Mrs. Parham jumped in to run the paper with the help of her son, Bill Spillers. She hit the streets getting advertising and never let a ‘no’ discourage her,” White said.
“She was one of a kind,” said co-owner Eric H. Kearney. “She was tough as nails, and never afraid to speak her mind. At the same time, she was compassionate and had a dry wit that always made me laugh. I shall always have the utmost respect for her integrity, business acumen, and passion.”
Mrs. Parham’s family reports that she had not been ill. “She felt fine on Monday,” said her granddaughter, Dr. Rhonda Spillers Washington, “but on Tuesday, they could not wake her up.” Hospice was called in, and she passed at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, April 14, Washington said.
“We will miss her terribly,” said Jan-Michele. “We often sought her advice and always wanted to make her proud of the legacy she provided for Cincinnati’s Black community.”
Visitation will be held from 10 a.m. to noon on Friday, April 23, followed by the funeral services. The location will be Spring Grove Cemetery.