Story and photos by Speakin’ Out News staff
During its celebration of Black History Month, Oakwood University chose to honor local Community Hero, William D. Smothers, publisher of Speakin’ Out News for his dedication to service and civic pride for Huntsville City and the surrounding areas on Thursday, February 21, 2019.
William Smothers’ rough calculations, he’s overseen the publication of more than 2028 issues of Speakin’ Out News, the weekly newspaper he started 39 years ago. Still, he hasn’t grown tired of the routine of putting out a newspaper week after week. The work is always exciting, and still a challenge for him. “Every day I wake up with enthusiasm to come to work. It hasn’t gotten dim at all over the years,” said the 69-year-old Smothers.
Smothers has experienced dramatic changes in his own publication and the industry as a whole. He first launched a general interest monthly magazine, Speakin’ Out Magazine, in September 1980. He switched formats to a bi-monthly, then weekly newspaper with Speakin’ Out News which was geared to African Americans accomplishments.
He saw the layout of the paper go fully computerized. Smothers, the founder, sole owner, editor and publisher, moved his publication from the kitchen table of his home in Decatur, AL to an office building in Huntsville, AL to its permanent location in Huntsville, AL on Oakwood Avenue.
Smothers came up with about $800 to start his magazine, “Just enough to get the first printing done,” he said. There were no payroll costs, however. I was the writer, the photographer, the layout person,” he said. Smothers at first kept his job as a Special Education and Music teacher with the Morgan County School System. During his breaks, he was on the telephone, calling advertisers or setting up interviews. He stopped on the way to his office to sell ads or conduct an interview. Then he checked his mail and caught up on other work before heading home to do lesson plans for his classes the next day. “I wanted to fill a void in the African American community because, at that time, there was an absence of people of color being covered except in an entertainment or sports nature,” Smothers said. Smothers didn’t fret about his chaotic schedule. “You don’t worry about the hours, you worry about attaining your goals, “he said.
The most challenging part of getting started was selling ads, Smothers said. “I would work an entire shopping center, an entire mall to sell ads. “It teaches you how to deal with people, how to communicate with people.”
After establishing his publication, his time was cut that could have been spent with his family. At the time, Smothers and his former wife, educator, and Jackson, Mississippi native, Emma Brown-White, had two young daughters, ages 7 and 2. “I wasn’t able to contribute quality time to them, but I was trying to build something for the future,” he said. Smothers finally had to choose whether to continue in the education field and work with his publication part-time or make his publishing a full-time effort. “To grow at all, you have to be totally committed,” he said.
When Smothers handed in his resignation in 1985, the Morgan County school superintendent at the time told Smothers he could return whenever he liked. Now Smothers, whose newspaper has grown from a circulation today of 25, 757, can share the responsibility with a staff of eight.
He is the father of four beautiful daughters. His oldest daughter, Jemeana Smothers-Roberson who is the associate publisher and oversees the graphics and website areas; his second daughter, Knegleshia Smothers-Cobb, who is a staff writer/editor, his third daughter, Terra Smothers-Carter, who is also a staff writer/sale accountant, and youngest daughter, Canderiah Smothers, who is the office manager. He is married to Deloris Rice-Smothers, a Computer Information System (CIS) Instructor and Division Chair, for the Business, Computer Science, and Engineering Division at Drake State Community College.
Smothers is also a proud professional grandfather of eight; Zoie, Darrion, Morgyn, Zyan, Madisyn, Kyndall, Jabin, and Zeah. Smothers is a proud graduate of Jackson State University and is involved with numerous community organizations.
Smothers realized that he had found a niche when more and more people asked the newspaper to cover their events. “Some of these people had never had coverage of their events before, “he said. “It’s more than a newspaper. It’s about the community.”
Speakin’ Out News is entering its 39th year, and Smothers thanks God for his longevity. “By God’s grace, Speakin’ Out News had withstood the test of time. Our doors have not closed, like so many other larger publications. We have not been bought out by big business, nor do we solely print digital. Speakin’ Out News consistently prints every Wednesday, making history every week as the longest running African-American newspaper in North Alabama.”