Here, for all to read, is a link to The Baltimore Sun’s deeply researched editorial on the newspaper’s history of racism, going back to its founding nearly two centuries ago. (Here is a link to a note from our publisher and editor-in-chief, Trif Alatzas.) I hope you take time to read it all, either online or in print. Will Schwarz, who is president of the Maryland Lynching Memorial Project, had this response in a Friday newsletter:
Earlier today, The Sun Editorial Board published a remarkable, full-throated apology for its role in perpetuating white supremacy over its nearly 185 years of existence. The editorial read, in part, “Through its news coverage and editorial opinions, The Sun sharpened, preserved and furthered the structural racism that still subjugates Black Marylanders in our communities today.”
There is a lot to process here and it is worth reading and rereading. The lengthy confessional documents in detail many of the newspaper’s historic failings. It also points out, fairly, that any newspaper reflects its readership so we should recognize that many of the faults noted are our own. The editorial is unsparing, overdue and necessary, but not sufficient. The Sun itself acknowledges that its mea culpa is a waypoint, not an end point.
Certainly The Sun is not the first paper to apologize for its historic racism. The Philadelphia Inquirer published a similar, if briefer, statement just two days ago and papers all over the country have made related apologies in the past few years. The Sun’s sweeping statement today is stunning nonetheless.
“The paper’s prejudice hurt people. It hurt families, it hurt communities, and it hurt the nation as a whole by prolonging and propagating the notion that the color of someone’s skin has anything to do with their potential or their worth to the wider world.” The Sun is the only game in town and has been since the News-American departed the scene in 1986. It may be called the Baltimore Sun, but it is Maryland’s newspaper. It carries weight. Its pages are our public forum. It connects our history to posterity.
While many are already calling The Sun editorial, “too little, too late,” I respectfully disagree. It’s an important step, a milestone in the Sun’s relationship to the community it serves. By publishing this lengthy apology and documenting its historic failures, the Sun is modeling the candor, honesty, self-awareness and accountability each of us needs to bring to these conversations if we are to move forward and achieve the vision we have of how we want to live together.
Recently, in an online forum, The Atlantic’s Clint Smith (author of the acclaimed, “How the Word is Passed”) spoke of how our national reckoning requires us to balance responsibility and accountability with grace and generosity. We need to create a space where these difficult conversations about race can happen.
Sometimes it’s hard to resist the siren’s call of indignation. While it can feel satisfying in the moment, it’s rarely helpful and is more often a barrier to progress, to healing, to reconciliation. So while it’s tempting to be cynical about The Sun’s motives, it would be tragic to dismiss this gesture out of hand. We might instead think of the Sun editorial as a prompt. Our response can be to summon the grace and generosity and courage to create a space where we can talk meaningfully and honestly about race. (The Sun editorial might be a good place to start a conversation.) Only then will we be able to move forward together. It is what we owe each other, and we have the power to provide it.
In his 1986 Nobel Peace Prize lecture, Eli Weisel observed, “Mankind must remember that peace is not God’s gift to his creatures, it is our gift to each other.” Truth first.
Photo: At top, Baltimore Sun print edition apology, Feb. 20, 2022; the publisher and board of directors, @1940s.