The Nation’s Largest African American Video Oral History Collection Mobile search icon Mobile close search icon
Advanced Biography Search
Mobile navigation icon Close mobile navigation icon

William Lee

Newspaper publisher William H. Lee was born on May 29, 1936 in Austin, Texas. Williams attended Sacramento State College from 1953 to 1955, and went on to earn his A.B. degree in journalism from the University of California in 1957.

From 1959 to 1965, Lee served in the U.S. Air Force. Lee, along with radioman Glino Gladden and businessman John W. Cole, founded the Sacramento Observer on November 22, 1962. Despite early challenges, Lee became president and sole publisher of the paper in 1965. At that time, he also founded Lee Publishing, Col. Five years later, under his leadership, the Sacramento Observer was named the number one African American newspaper in the United States. Throughout the years, the Sacramento Observer has been a strong community leader and was the catalyst for organizing the local chapter of the National Urban League. In the past TheSacramento Observer has sponsored numerous community events including organizing the annual Sacramento Black Expo to celebrate African American history featuring seminars, workshops, concerts and a marketplace.

In 2001, a year after Lee appointed his late wife Kathryn Lee, as co-publisher, the newspaper launched an online news site, SacOberver.com. Its first inception featured select articles from The Sacramento Observer newspaper. Lee’s youngest son, Lawrence Charles Lee, served as the president and CEO of SacObserver.com. Then, in 2005, executive and publishing control of the Sacramento Observer passed from Lee and his wife to his son Lawrence Charles Lee, who now is the sole publisher, president, general manager of the Sacramento Observer and Lee Publishing, Co.

From 1970 to 1973, Lee served as secretary and as a member of the board of directors of the National Newspaper Publishers Association. He was elected as president of the West Coast Black Publishers Association 1974. He is founder and past president of the Men’s Civic League of Sacramento, co-founder of the Sacramento Area Black Caucus, and is a lifetime member of the N.A.A.C.P.

Lee received Sacramento’s Outstanding Young Man of the Year Award (1965), the Carly Murphy Plaque for community service (1994), the. The Sacramento Observer was a recipient of the Media Award from the Western Regional Conference of Elected Black Officials in (1973) and the John B. Russwurm Trophy – which is considered to be the Pulitzer Prize in African American newspaper publishing – from the National Newspaper Publishers Association (1973, 1975).

Lee and his late wife Kathryn Lee, have three sons: Lawrence Charles, William Hanford, Jr., and Roderick Joseph (deceased).

William H. Lee was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on November 5, 2013.

Accession Number

A2013.293

Sex

Male

Interview Date

11/5/2013

Last Name

Lee

Maker Category
Marital Status

Widower

Middle Name

Hanford

Schools

University of California, Berkeley

California State University, Sacramento

Roosevelt Middle School

Grant Union High School

Raphael Weill Elementary School

Search Occupation Category
First Name

William

Birth City, State, Country

Austin

HM ID

LEE07

Favorite Season

Spring

State

Texas

Favorite Vacation Destination

Hawaii

Favorite Quote

I Can Do All Things Through Christ Who Strengthens Me.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

California

Birth Date

5/29/1936

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Sacramento

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Fried Chicken

Short Description

Newspaper publishing chief executive William Lee (1936 - ) co-founded the Sacramento Observer where he served as president and publisher for over fifty years.

Employment

The Sacramento Observer

Favorite Color

Green

Timing Pairs
0,0:13050,190:19762,350:20326,357:21548,372:21924,377:22864,390:23804,398:27564,449:28692,463:29632,474:30948,494:31888,506:50474,661:51062,670:51986,683:52322,688:60860,812:61500,823:61980,831:64418,843:72400,919:81889,1041:86749,1113:87721,1127:88612,1139:94175,1160:94475,1165:95450,1184:97850,1222:101000,1276:101600,1287:109209,1356:109956,1368:115600,1467:115932,1472:116264,1478:120248,1549:120580,1554:134630,1742:135098,1752:137672,1869:138140,1877:143234,1909:143762,1918:144356,1929:144818,1937:149692,1993:150910,2009:151519,2018:152215,2028:153085,2041:154129,2056:156217,2103:166234,2171:167312,2187:168082,2199:168544,2206:171258,2234:172410,2262:178098,2384:179178,2444:179610,2459:180258,2471:180546,2476:187034,2538:187910,2564:188859,2585:192582,2638:192947,2644:196326,2660:197862,2675:200262,2704:204198,2741:204582,2746:206598,2753:206982,2758:211100,2768:211428,2773:211756,2778:213642,2813:214708,2827:215118,2833:215446,2838:216020,2848:217660,2861:217988,2866:220448,2903:220776,2908:229568,2968:230063,2974:237870,3035:238330,3042:241550,3094:242930,3111:243298,3121:243666,3126:251909,3192:252619,3206:253870,3219$0,0:788,8:5036,96:7160,145:10346,170:19330,280:21430,320:21920,329:22690,345:23180,354:23950,367:24440,376:24860,384:25980,415:32030,459:32590,467:33150,474:33630,481:37070,519:37870,530:39070,550:39790,589:40350,598:40910,607:42830,632:43710,644:57602,802:59996,876:65240,1050:70028,1103:80873,1239:81335,1247:81720,1253:82259,1259:82875,1264:83260,1270:83645,1276:85801,1304:87803,1337:88188,1343:89497,1371:90113,1380:90806,1396:91576,1412:96820,1428:97645,1443:98620,1457:98920,1462:102595,1530:103795,1552:104695,1571:105220,1579:105745,1586:108820,1626:110170,1654:112516,1670:113172,1680:114730,1707:116862,1747:117764,1762:118174,1768:119158,1782:120142,1793:120962,1804:123914,1829:124898,1843:125800,1857:131166,1890:134766,1959:136350,1988:136854,1997:137502,2002:138294,2017:139014,2029:139518,2037:139806,2042:140382,2054:145418,2090:145828,2096:146156,2101:146484,2106:146812,2111:150092,2156:150420,2162:152962,2200:153700,2210:154848,2227:155914,2232:156570,2242:163844,2300:166124,2319:166428,2324:167416,2341:167872,2349:169088,2371:170608,2395:173496,2445:173876,2451:174332,2458:178920,2477:184230,2528:184590,2533:185040,2539:188190,2612:191790,2649:192330,2656:192870,2663:196560,2717:201340,2726:203797,2774:204049,2779:209220,2883:210690,2914:213280,2972:213840,2982:217200,3049:217690,3057:222610,3082:223234,3088:223546,3093:223858,3098:227290,3145:228304,3160:228928,3170:232438,3225:233452,3242:239030,3262:241910,3288:242630,3299:243170,3307:243530,3312:245970,3324:247845,3352:248895,3371:249945,3400:250245,3405:251145,3416:252270,3433:252945,3443:253545,3453:254820,3477:256095,3494:256470,3500:258795,3540:261720,3545
DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of William Lee's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - William Lee lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - William Lee describes his mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - William Lee talks about his father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - William Lee describes his parents' education

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - William Lee describes his father's career

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - William Lee talks about how his parents met

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - William Lee remembers his family's move to San Francisco, California

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - William Lee talks about his brother and sister-in-law

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - William Lee describes his likeness to his father

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - William Lee remembers his father's strokes

Tape: 1 Story: 12 - William Lee describes his upbringing in San Francisco, California

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - William Lee describes the children's book based upon his family

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - William Lee remembers playing basketball in high school

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - William Lee remembers moving to Del Paso Heights in Sacramento, California

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - William Lee describes his experiences at Grant Union High School in Sacramento, California

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - William Lee remembers his arrival at the University of California, Berkeley

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - William Lee talks about his time at Sacramento State College in Sacramento, California

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - William Lee remembers his accounting professor at Sacramento State College

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - William Lee describes the student organizations at the University of California, Berkeley

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - William Lee remembers the student activism at the University of California, Berkeley

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - William Lee recalls the lack of support for black students at University of California, Berkeley

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - William Lee remembers being hired at Aerojet Rocketdyne in Sacramento, California

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - William Lee remembers his courtship with his wife

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - William Lee describes the African American community in Sacramento, California

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - William Lee recalls the founding of The Sacramento Observer

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - William Lee talks about the Men's Civic League of Sacramento, California

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - William Lee talks about the cofounders of The Sacramento Observer

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - William Lee remembers the restrictive housing covenants in Sacramento, California

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - William Lee talks about the professional legacy of William Byron Rumford

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - William Lee describes the political climate in California during the early 1960s

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - William Lee describes the black leadership of Sacramento, California

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - William Lee talks about the growth of the black community in Sacramento, California

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - William Lee remembers becoming the sole owner of The Sacramento Observer

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - William Lee talks about success of The Sacramento Observer, pt. 1

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - William Lee talks about the success of The Sacramento Observer, pt. 2

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - William Lee describes the operations of The Sacramento Observer

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - William Lee talks about the advertisements in The Sacramento Observer, pt. 1

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - William Lee talks about the advertisements in The Sacramento Observer, pt. 2

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - William Lee describes the readership of The Sacramento Observer

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - William Lee talks about The Sacramento Observer's outreach programs

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - William Lee talks about the impact of technology on the newspaper industry

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - William Lee describes the editorial goals of The Sacramento Observer

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - William Lee talks about Mayor Kevin Johnson of Sacramento, California

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - William Lee talks about the stories covered in The Sacramento Observer

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - William Lee describes the staff of The Sacramento Observer

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - William Lee describes The Sacramento Observer's sports coverage

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - William Lee talks about his sons

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - William Lee reflects upon his career at The Sacramento Observer

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - William Lee describes his hopes and concerns for the African American community

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - William Lee reflects upon his legacy

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - William Lee talks about his wife

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - William Lee describes his youth outreach programs

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - William Lee describes how he would like to be remembered

DASession

1$1

DATape

3$4

DAStory

2$7

DATitle
William Lee remembers being hired at Aerojet Rocketdyne in Sacramento, California
William Lee talks about the success of The Sacramento Observer, pt. 2
Transcript
But you graduated you know in '57 [1957]--$$Yes.$$--with a degree in accounting?$$Yes.$$And you're a good student from what I've read--$$Yes.$$--and you, and you were good at what you did?$$That was an experience in itself. It's interesting I--so when I graduated [from the University of California, Berkeley, Berkeley, California], I and two of my fellow classmates who were both whites, went to apply for an accounting opportunity that was being offered by an accounting firm, and they were looking for graduates in accounting to go work for them. And when we went in, we went in individually, and I went in initially and they did not hire me. The firm--I tried to reassure the firm that I was a good student and I brought my transcripts and everything else. And the other two students, when they went in, they hired both of them. Now, when I--when I was being interviewed, I asked the interviewer why I was not being hired, they said, "Well, I don't think my staff, my organization is ready to accept an African American--," at that time "a Negro to join our organization." So I was being denied. I was introduced to racism in a real absolute way in that experience; and it really hit me in the gut, because I'd never had it so vividly shown and experienced to me. When I got back to the car and my buddies got back, they had been accepted, and they got so upset and both of these friends of mine and these fellow students--and I was a better student than they were, both of them, and they knew it. But it was all about--I told them the fact that they just did not hire me, and they wanted to go in and turn in and resign just from being accepted or take that--refuse the job to be accepted. That too was an experience for me as well. So again, I called Mom [Carrie Woods Lee] and Dad [Charles R. Lee] and I said I wanted to come home. And I moved in--I came to Sacramento [California]. I was thinking about then joining with the [U.S.] Air Force, going to the effort that was going on; and I called a friend of mine who was working at the time at Aerojet [Aerojet Rocketdyne] here as a space industry--the aerospace industry was booming, and Aerojet was flourishing and growing and hiring people. And it was through that friend's effort, and I asked him very vividly, I said, "Now look, I don't want to go out there and experience what I just experienced in the Bay Area [San Francisco Bay Area, California], Sacramento." He said, "No, you need to see this person," and he gave me a name of a person that I interviewed with. He hired me on the spot. And I went to work at Aerojet as a statistician right out--shortly after that. But that experience was something I'll never forget, because it was--it was a--it was the true racism that reflected even when you're qualified, even when you're knowledgeable about your skill and your art and your profession. So I was very, very let down from going--trying for other employment in the Bay Area. I think that my warmth and growth at Aerojet gave me the reassurance that I needed to eventually to move forward, and to set my sights on what I felt were some earlier and eas- and dreams and plans and hopes that I had for my career and my life and all.$Did you model, in terms of managing the paper [The Sacramento Observer], did you--was there any other publication, African American or, or white that you modeled after?$$After?$$Yeah in terms of presentation and content and that sort of thing?$$No, we didn't. We really didn't. We've had our own sense of mission, our sense of purpose and the sense of direction in terms of what we wanted to do in publishing our newspaper. We minimized, not to the extent that it became faulty information, but we minimized all the negativity that existed in our community [in Sacramento, California], which we felt was marginal compared to the outstanding achievements and the accomplishments of the community.$$Now, I've heard that before. I know the--I know one of the papers that's--was accused of egregiously using, you know, murders and that sort of thing I think was the St. Louis American. At one time they were considered a murder sheet. A lot of black papers, the Courier [Pittsburgh Courier; New Pittsburgh Courier], the Defender [Chicago Defender] opened with a violent scene.$$Yes.$$And was this the history of the old--well not the reverend's [J.T. Muse] paper [Sacramento Outlook], right, he didn't do that?$$No. There were some and many of those cases that built their reputation or their formats based upon the crime, as you say crime sheets of the negative cri- negative things that are going on in the community. But again, we felt realistically that that was not truly a description of our community. We wanted to be representative of the community. And if there's only 2 percent crime, we wanted 2 percent news that reflected that, not 98 percent and the other way around, so that's--that is always--. So we sort of focused on the issues, on the needs that existed, education, employment opportunities, the whole desire to own property, the building of wealth; a variety of different positive motives and missions that are so important to our community. And we built our paper on that format, and we continue to have it even today as we move through the wavelength. And I think it's been very successful, very helpful to us. We see, you know, there's movement going on and--in the newspaper industry and all that tells you that, you know, even with print in mainstream is somewhat dying, it's losing much revenue and that type of thing, but if you can focus on satisfying our community or satisfying a community need building value within those communities, which is what our motto was. So we went on to win from those days, we went on to win the Russwurm [John B. Russwurm Trophy], this top trophy awards, six times, and we--it became almost like our pri- our awards. So we stopped entering the contest, because we were just winning too many awards in that sense. We didn't want it seemed like it was being set or anything else. And then we stayed away a few years and went back and we won that year that we went back to in the '90s [1990s]. So a number of times that we just have backed away, and we have not re-entered in several years. But I think, you know, that even today, as I said, you see many of the products suffering, but there's a resurgence, I sense, that's going to go on and will be going on for the press. I see print becoming again an element that we'll have to deal with, and I think the ones that will be successful in that effort, will be the ones who have that, that concentration of community building, support of communities, recognition that their communities have values and building on that.