Wilbert A. Tatum, publisher emeritus, CEO, and chairman of the board of the New York Amsterdam News, died Tuesday while vacationing with his wife, Susan, in Croatia. He was 76 years old.
Tatum, along with a group of businessman, purchased the Amsterdam News in 1971. He held numerous titles at the paper, including editor, publisher, chairman, and chief executive officer.
Amsterdam News was founded in Harlem 100 years ago, and it has been one of the leading African American newspapers since its inception.
“His courage, his tenacity, his sagacity, and his advocacy, is unparalleled in African American journalism,” said the Rev. Al Sharpton in a statement. “We have lost a great advocate, a penetrating writer, an unmatchable institution builder, and for me, a great friend and father figure.”
Tatum began his career more than 50 years ago as a community activist, serving as executive director of the Cooper Square Committee, a housing organization in New York’s Lower East Side. The committee’s original mission was to stop the city’s Slum Clearance Committee, under the chairmanship of urban planner Robert Moses, from replacing the housing for the poor with luxury housing.
In 1982, Tatum took over editorial direction of the Amsterdam News and expanded its editorial coverage into international affairs, a move that helped increased the paper’s readership. It wasn’t until 1996, however, that Tatum was able to buy out the last remaining investor in the paper, putting paper’s future in the hands of the Tatum family. A year later his daughter Elinor, 26 at the time, replaced him as editor-in-chief and publisher.
He had a brief period at the New York Post, when in 1993 he was named publisher and editor while the paper faced discrimination allegations. At the time, the paper had no reporters of color on their city desks and no minority editorial managers.
Tatum knew his share of controversy. By 1996, Tatum had been battling with a shareholder for 13 years over control of the Amsterdam News. It was in April of that year that jurors found Tatum had “wrongfully diverted” $1.05 million in corporate money. “In reaching its decision…, the jury found that Tatum had abused his power in order to favor his investments, like a second office in a building he owns in the East Village, and a messenger service that [shareholder John L. Edmonds] argued has only one purpose: to distribute copies of the paper on orders from Tatum,” wrote the New York Times.
Elinor Tatum said the paper “will continue in the tradition of service of informing and working with the local, national, and international community to keep in the forefront ‘The New Black View,’” according to a statement.
Tatum graduated from Lincoln University in 1958. He later attended Yale University as a National Urban Fellow, sponsored by the National League of Cities, the U.S. Conference of Mayors, and the Ford Foundation. He received his Master’s Degree in Urban Studies at Occidental College, Los Angeles, California.
He was also involved with other