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Sacramento Observer records
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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Access
  • Publication Rights
  • Preferred Citation
  • Acquisition Information
  • Biography/Administrative History
  • Scope and Content of Collection
  • Arrangement
  • Indexing Terms

  • Title: Sacramento Observer records
    Dates: circa 1964-1991
    Identifier/Call Number: MS0011
    Creator/Collector: Lee, William 1936- Lee, Kathleen 1935-2013 Sacramento Observer
    Extent: 30 linear feet (25 boxes)
    Repository: Center for Sacramento History
    Abstract: The Sacramento Observer records document the production and management of the Sacramento Observer, an African American-owned weekly newspaper, between 1964 and 1988. Founded, owned, and published by William H. Lee, a business and civic leader in Sacramento, California, this collection contains Lee’s correspondence and honors, administrative and financial documents, and over 24,000 black and white photographs used in the production of the paper.
    Language of Material: English


    The collection is open for research.

    Publication Rights

    All requests to publish or quote from private collections held by the Center for Sacramento History (CSH) must be submitted in writing to csh@cityofsacramento.org. Permission for publication is given on behalf of Center for Sacramento History as the owner of the physical items and is not intended to include or imply permission of the copyright holder, which must also be obtained by the patron. No permission is necessary to publish or quote from public records.

    Preferred Citation

    [Identification of item], Sacramento Observer records, MS0011, Center for Sacramento History

    Acquisition Information

    Donated by Lilburn H. Horton Jr., July 2011 (accession #2011/031).

    Biography/Administrative History

    The Sacramento Observer is an African American-owned weekly newspaper based in Sacramento, California. The paper was established in 1962 by Dr. William H. Lee, Gino Gladden, and John W. Cole, who purchased what was then a religious weekly called the Sacramento Outlook from the Reverend J.T. Muse, with the intention of expanding the paper to serve the growing African-American community of the area. By 1965, ownership had been assumed by Lee, who went on to publish the paper with his family. In 2001, Lee appointed his wife, Kathryn, co-publisher and in 2005 executive publishing control passed from the Lees to their son Lawrence Charles Lee. The paper’s offices are located in the Oak Park neighborhood of Sacramento.
    The Sacramento Observer features local, national, and international news with a focus on African-American culture, politics, and leadership. In addition to the weekly issues, the Sacramento Observeralso regularly published special editions addressing Black business, Black education guides, equal opportunity guides, Martin Luther King Jr. memorials, Black entertainment guides, local church directories, and calendars of events highlighting African-American events. The Sacramento Observer spearheaded the local chapter of the National Urban League and sponsored numerous local events central to the African-American community, including the Sacramento Black Expo. The newspaper has been awarded the John B. Russwurm trophy numerous times and has received hundreds of local and national awards for outstanding community service and journalism excellence.
    William Lee was born in Austin, Texas, in 1936 and moved to Sacramento with his family in 1950. His father, the Rev. Charles R. Lee, was the founder of the Unity Fellowship Baptist Church, Sacramento, and managed spiritual singing groups, one of which William Lee was a member. Lee attended Sacramento State College from 1953 to 1955, earned his AB degree from the University of California in 1957, served in the Air Force reserves from 1959 to 1965, and worked as a real estate broker before founding the newspaper. He served as a member of the board of directors of the National Newspaper Publishers Association from 1970-1973 and was president of the West Coast Black Publishers Association in 1974. He was a co-founder of the Sacramento Area Black Caucus, founder and past president of the Men’s Civic League of Sacramento, and is a lifetime member of the NAACP.
    Kathryn Lee was born in 1935 in New Orleans, Louisiana, and moved to Sacramento with her family when she was 8 years old. She attended San Francisco State College and, in 1956, became the first African-American woman to work at the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Office. She worked as a legislative aide in the California State Capitol for 14 years before going to work at the Sacramento Observer. The Lees were married in 1961 and they had three sons, Roderick Joseph Lee, William H. Lee Jr., and Lawrence Charles Lee. Kathryn Lee was recognized with numerous awards including the Women’s Civic Improvement Club’s Woman of the Year (1970); the Greyhound Corporation’s Woman of the Year (1991); the National Council of Negro Women, Sacramento Valley Section’s “Most Outstanding Women” award (1993); the Second Annual Madame CJ Walker Entrepreneurial Award (1999); and the National Coalition of 100 Black Women, Sacramento Chapter’s Pioneer Award (2002). She passed away in 2013.

    Scope and Content of Collection

    This collection primarily documents the business and production activities of the Sacramento Observer, an African American-operated weekly newspaper, between the years of 1964 and 1988, and that of the paper’s publisher William H. Lee. Presumably collected by Lee, the materials consist of his business and research files, administrative and financial documents, and tens of thousands of black-and-white photographs used in the production of the weekly newspaper. Photographs comprise the bulk of the collection – 19 out of 25 boxes total – however they are only described here at the container level. The first six boxes have been organized and described at the folder level.
    Correspondence files consist primarily of business matters and those pertaining to Lee’s extensive record of community service. This includes correspondence related to Black businesses and organizations, political correspondence, newspaper publishing associations, and national African American organizations such as the NAACP. Folders also contain extensive documentation of the production of the Afro-American Festival of 1969, of which Mr. and Mrs. Lee were organizers and sponsors. Financial records largely concern a period of financial instability for the newspaper during the 1970s. The Lees’ papers were not in a discernible order, and an artificial series hierarchy was created based on subject material under the series “William and Kathy Lee Papers.” These files are organized by correspondence, organization, and event, ending with financial and legal records regarding Roderick Lee. The Sacramento Observer administrative records include financial, marketing, and employee materials.
    Research files were originally in alphabetical order by subject, and that order has been kept. These consist of photographs, newspaper and magazine clippings, and biographical sketches that feature African-American professionals of various fields including medicine, education, government, entertainment, business, and military. Material in the research files cover the Sacramento region, California, and national subjects and include personal photographs of the Lee family, which are filed under Rev. Charles R. Lee. The collection contains a small reference library of books, magazines, newspapers, curricular materials, and political campaign materials regarding African-American history, culture, politics, and religion.
    The majority of the photographs (13 boxes) in the collection represent the Sacramento Observer production photo morgue, which are organized chronologically and foldered with the weekly issue they were used to produce. Additionally, one box of photographs is organized alphabetically by subject, while another box of photographs pertaining to sports is organized by sports team, and three boxes are not organized at all.


    The collection is arranged into 5 series:
    • Series 1. William and Kathy Lee papers, 1969-1991
    • Series 2. Sacramento Observer, 1967-1988
    • Series 3. Reference publications, 1967-1989
    • Series 4. Sacramento Observer production photo morgue, 1964-1988
    • Series 5. Sacramento Observer photographs, 1969-1977

    Indexing Terms

    African Americans
    Community Development
    Sacramento (Calif.)—History