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  knowledge by Kelley Reese

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Theodore Roosevelt Lee

IN 1964, THEODORE ROOSEVELT LEE was one of a group of influential African Americans approached to help keep the Dallas Post Tribune afloat, beginning a relationship with the newspaper business that has spanned nearly 40 years.

At the time, Lee (’57 M.Ed.) was serving as principal of Dallas’ George Washington Carver Elementary School. As a man dedicated to education, he felt obliged to help the paper that was formed with the philosophy of educating and enhancing the black community, especially youths.

“I didn’t know the first thing about the news business, and to be honest, I didn’t know if I wanted to,” says Lee, now the Tribune’s publisher. “But I did know that the paper served a vital role in our community.”

So, Lee and a handful of other community leaders gathered in his den with Tribune founder Burt C. Muse to discuss exactly what was needed.

“We decided to save the paper, and we each took a position on the board of directors, but we would not be directly involved in the day-to-day operations,” Lee says.


North Texas work

The arrangement left Lee free to continue his career with the Dallas Independent School District, which ended in 1991 when he retired as deputy assistant superintendent.

His public role as the leader of Carver Elementary, a large school that was facing tough questions involving integration, made him an attractive candidate for other educational institutions working on interracial relations.

In May of 1969, Lee left Carver to join the Dean of Students Office at North Texas at the request of then president John J. Kamerick.

“He asked me to take a direct-contact role with students to help educate the whole person by concentrating on discipline through example and keeping an open door,” he says.

Upon Lee’s arrival as the first black administrator at North Texas, a letter in the student newspaper greeted him and proclaimed the students’ need to have an “ear” in administration on campus.

“North Texas is a good school with record-breaking enrollment every semester. For each new student there is a new set of problems. Maybe now with your position some of these can be solved. Maybe all,” the author wrote.

Lee made a distinct effort to communicate with students, and they noticed. A book of memories from that time holds a number of letters of thanks.

“I didn’t know what purpose you would serve,” one reads. “After talking to you, I find that you seem like you are interested in the problems that are here, and you will try to help.”

When the university’s administration changed just three months after his arrival, Lee returned to the DISD. Even though little could be accomplished in one summer, his commitment to opening dialogue between students and administration is still embraced on campus today.


Newspaper days

During his career as an educator, Lee continued his involvement with the Dallas Post Tribune.

For 27 years after he joined the Tribune’s board of directors, someone else operated the paper. But when the federal government notified board members in 1991 that the newspaper was again in financial trouble, Lee got more involved.

“I still wasn’t sure that I wanted to actually run a paper, but my wife, Dorothy, and I decided that if the government was going to take our money anyway, we may as well work out a tax deal to get the paper right again and operate it ourselves.”

For nearly 10 years that’s exactly what they’ve done. And the paper that had hit rough times throughout its life is today one of the state’s top weekly community newspapers.

As president and publisher, Lee has been recognized for his commitment and his success by the Texas Association of Publishers and Managing Editors. And with Dorothy serving as vice president and head of finance, they work together to produce the weekly paper that remains true to its original mission.

Today, however, that mission has expanded and the paper is more diversified, educating and enhancing not just the black community, but all communities.

And that is why Lee got involved in the first place.

“Community journalism serves a purpose that most people don’t really notice,” he says. “And that is to print the news that makes a community feel bound together.”


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