L.O. Swingler (left), the founding editor of The Tri-State Defender. Karanja A. Ajanaku is at the helm of the TSD as it celebrates its 72nd year.

“To uphold the principle of equality of opportunity in employment, education, politics, and all fields of human endeavor.” – L.O. Swingler, the Tri-State Defender’s founding editor

It was a mission statement that reflected the hopes and aspirations of African Americans struggling to grow and develop amid the harsh, inhumane conditions underpinning the reality of the “Jim Crow” South.

John H. Sengstacke

Upon its founding in 1951 by renowned publisher John H. Sengstacke and over the past 72 years, The Tri-State Defender has been led by a succession of dedicated editors, who have worked diligently to see that the newspaper lives up to its mission statement. Editors such as L.O. Swingler, the Defender’s first editor, and L. Alex Wilson, who was severely beaten by an angry white mob as he covered the desegregation of Little Rock’s Central High School in 1957.

For the past 16½ years, The Tri-State Defender has been guided by Executive Editor Karanja A. Ajanaku, who took on the additional role of Associate Publisher in 2018.

From the outset, Ajanaku aspired for the newspaper “to chronicle the African-American community becoming a model for African Americans regarding building upon the best of the community’s past and getting the most out of its potential, including generating wealth to ‘save its children.’”

Tri-State Defender Editor and General Manager L. Alex Wilson was assaulted during the desegregation of Central High School in Little Rock in 1957. (Photo: Will Counts Collection, Indiana University Archives)

This week, as The Tri-State Defender and some of its community partners acknowledge and celebrate its 72-year legacy, Deidre Malone, vice president of the newspaper’s ownership group, summed up Ajanaku’s leadership with these words:

“Dr. Ajanaku is a pure journalist and leads The Tri-State Defender with a steady hand. It has not been easy, but we know, and our readers know that the quality of reporting from The Tri-State Defender is specific to an African-American audience that has a voice through the TSD media platforms in large part due to the leadership and passion of Dr. Ajanaku.”

(Jerome Wright is deputy editor of The-Tri-State Defender.)