Upton Mansion. Photo courtesy of Maryor’s Office.
Upton Mansion. Photo courtesy of Maryor’s Office.

How The AFRO newspaper came to be depends on who you ask, said Rev. Dr. Frances Murphy Draper, great-granddaughter of the newspaper’s founder, John H. Murphy Sr.

If you ask the men in the family, Murphy Sr.’s wife, Martha–Draper’s great-grandmother–gifted her husband $200 to buy The AFRO name and a printing press at an auction. But if you ask the women in the family, the money was a loan, said Draper, who is the newspaper’s CEO and publisher, as well as the senior pastor at the Freedom Temple A.M.E. Zion Church.

Regardless of who has the origin story right, Murphy Sr. founded The Afro-American Newspaper, the longest continuously running black family-owned newspaper in the United States, in the Upton community of West Baltimore in 1892.

Now, almost 130 years later, The AFRO is returning to its old community with a new home in the Upton Mansion.

Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young announced Wednesday the newspaper would be moving from its current offices in Halethorpe to its new headquarters at the historic house, located at 811 W. Lanvale St.

The property will be revitalized through an estimated $7 million investment from a development team including AFRO Charities, Hodges Development LLC, Abrams Foster Nole and Williams P.A., and McKennon, Shelton and Henn LLP.

Young said the property was added to the city’s historic landmark list in 2008, and it was included on a 2009 list of the most endangered buildings in the state of Maryland by Maryland Magazine and Preservation Maryland.

However, Young said the investment will help rehabilitate the property so that it can serve as the AFRO’s headquarters.

“We worked together with the state to stabilize and protect this structure. Then we began contemplating this structure’s future,” he said. “Today, we’re here to share with you a bright future indeed.”

Dale Green, the architect behind the project and a Morgan State University professor of architecture and historic preservation, said the mansion is an “architecturally and culturally significant property.”

Edward Ireland had a home on the property from 1735 to 1838. Then, in 1838, David Stewart tore down that structure to build the Upton Mansion on the property. Today, the mansion is the last surviving Greek Revival country house in Baltimore City, Green said.

In 1924, musician Robert Young became the first African-American owner of the Upton Mansion and the last owner to use the building as a private residence, Green said.

Now, the building will not only house The AFRO‘s journalists and executives, but it will also include the official AFRO archives, research rooms, media suites, mini theaters, classrooms, studios, storage and fitness spaces, office space for lease, and spaces for the community to use.

Draper said The AFRO is happy to be back in the community where it all began 128 years ago for the newspaper.

“We started here in Upton and we are thrilled to be returning to our old West Baltimore roots,” she said.

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Marcus Dieterle

Marcus Dieterle is the managing editor of Baltimore Fishbowl. He returned to Baltimore in 2020 after working as the deputy editor of the Cecil Whig newspaper in Elkton, Md. He can be reached at marcus@baltimorefishbowl.com...