“Somebody gotta be first.”
That attitude explains how Tommy Wyatt ran for Travis County Commissioner twice in the 60s, even though a black person had never been elected to that office.
It explains how he managed the campaign for Wilhelmina Delco’s landmark successful bid for a seat on the Austin school board (3 days after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King) – making her the first African American elected to public office in Austin.
It explains why he didn’t question the invitation he received to be the only black member of the local Jaycees, even after 3 board members quit upon his acceptance.
It explains how, while not the first Black paper in Austin, The Villager was established to shed light on a multitude of issues and events impacting the community.
And it explains why in 1982, he was one of the 11 founding members of the Greater Austin Black Chamber of Commerce
Somebody gotta be first.
Like most Black newspapers in the country, The Villager was started to do the necessary work of countering the purely negative press major newspapers produced about black people at the time. “Those of us in the community knew what was really going on, but for those outside, oftentimes print media was the only exposure they had to the black community. It was important that we told about the positive things going on,” Wyatt said while sitting in the newspaper’s East Austin office.
The black business owners who subscribed to Wyatt’s annual Black Registry, a business directory, were seeking a more frequent publication in which they could advertise their business and special events. A weekly newspaper would fit that bill. As an insurance man by profession, Wyatt had limited knowledge about running a newspaper, but he was determined to do it. It turned out that the racist attitude of the local daily paper worked out in his favor.
It was important that we told about the positive things going on,
The paper fired one of its journalists, a white woman whose father happened to be the Dean of The School of Journalism at UT Austin. She and two other newspaper staff were all fired for having married non-whites, despite their talent and credentials. Seeing an opportunity staring him in the face, Wyatt hired these smart, well-connected journalists to provide The Villager the strong footing it needed, absorbing all the information he could along the way. That kind of unexpected favor and good fortune has followed the paper ever since.
In addition to recording the history of the Black community and promoting activities hosted by black churches and organizations, The Villager was committed to informing its readers of the political process and educating them about the importance of local elected offices. It has done just that for the last 45 years and remains a staple of the black media in Austin. With an online presence over the last decade, thanks to the technological know-how of Wyatt’s son, Thomas, its reach now has the potential to develop international support and followership.
We’re not getting rich, but we’re surviving,
Surprisingly, despite the hit mainstream print media has taken with the advent of digital news, many black newspapers like The Villager are running at about the same level. This is attributed to the loyalty of the business and local government entities that still count on The Villager to share their news, archive their history and reach the communities they serve. As the black community has stretched into several suburbs, so has the availability of The Villager, which can now be found in Pflugerville, Round Rock and other surrounding areas where black families have settled. “We’re not getting rich, but we’re surviving, ” he chuckled proudly.
We salute Tommy Wyatt, his family and The Villager team for 45 years of keeping Black Austin visible and informed.
The 45th anniversary edition of The Villager will be published on Friday, May 11th and an anniversary celebration will take place on Saturday, May 12th at the Millennium Youth Entertainment Complex at 6pm. Tickets are still available.