CHATHAM — William D. Garth, Jr, the owner and publisher of the Chicago Citizen Newspapers, died last week at the age of 78.
The Tribune reported that Garth died Friday at RML Specialty Hospital in Chicago from complications of diabetes, according to his son, William Darrell Garth Jr.
Garth started at the Citizen as an advertising sales representative in 1969. Eleven years later, he bought the newspaper chain from former Congressman Gus Savage.
Under Garth's leadership, which lasted over 30 years, the newspaper expanded to include the South Suburban and the Hyde Park editions. He founded Garthco Publications, which published PUSH Magazine, a bi-monthly national publication. Citizen Newspapers has a total circulation of 121,000 and a weekly readership of over 400,000, according to their website. The circulation areas cover Chicago's South and West sides as well as the South Suburbs, making it the Midwest's largest black-owned newspaper chain.
Garth held many roles in the community, including being the founder and later an executive board member of the Chatham Business Association and a stockholder in the Cook County South Suburban Publishers Association. He was also the first black person to be elected President of the Illinois Press Association (IPA).
Through working at the Citizen's newspapers, many of Chicago's black journalists got their start in the profession thanks to Garth.
Billy Montgomery, a journalism professor and student media advisor at Roosevelt University, previously worked at a reporter at the Citizen. He told DNAinfo that Garth gave him his first full-time job in journalism.
"I really owe my reporting and photography career to him," Montgomery said. "I had no idea that so much power could be found in that little office, then on 87th Street, just before King Drive. Mr. Garth was responsible for giving me my sense of the importance of community reporting but also of national concerns. He always taught us we were citizens of the world and that the world was bigger than our block."
Hermene Hartman, publisher of NDIGO, echoed Montgomery's sentiments about black journalists getting their start at the Citizen.
"[Garth] was a champion of small business, always advocating and supporting the small business guy," she told DNAinfo. "He was a staunch supporter of black media as he constantly appeal[ed] to corporate to advertise in the black press to the black consumer. He was also the one who opened the door for young journalists. He offered opportunity, counsel and advice and presented many with their first jobs in the press. He was a nice man with a big heart and a firm fist."
Anthony Brown, a financial analyst, was once a recipient of the Quentis B. Garth (QBG) scholarship, which was named after Garth's son, who was killed in a domestic incident in 1995.
Brown said the scholarship launched his career and motivated him to excel.
"Without it I would have student loan debt. It kept me focused on graduating from college in four years and keeping my grades up. I know there was a minimum GPA to keep it renewed every year, but I never knew what the minimum was," Brown said. "My goal was to stay as far away from the minimum as possible.
"I'm saddened to hear of his passing," Brown said. "I was just telling my 13-year-old son a week ago that I'm counting on him to get scholarships like I did."
Rev. Jesse Jackson, chairman of the Rainbow Push Coalition, a longtime friend of Garth's, released a statement about his passing.
"Bill Garth was a dear and old friend. A longtime champion of social, racial and economic justice, Bill was a giant of a journalist. The legendary publisher of the Citizen newspaper, Bill was the first African American elected president of the Illinois Press Association, one of the largest state newspaper associations in the country. Bill was also a member of the Rainbow PUSH board and for many years the publisher of our magazine. He is deserving of our respect and honor. I already miss him more than I can say."
Garth is survived by his son Darrell, his daughter-in-law, Janice, three grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.
Kathy Chaney, president of the Chicago chapter of the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ), told DNAinfo that services for Garth will take place on Friday, September 30 at New Covenant Missionary Baptist Church, located at 754 East 77th Street.
In lieu of flowers the Garth family is asking that donations be sent to:
BMO Harris Bank, C/O The Bill Garth Scholarship Fund, 1400 West 18th Street, Chicago, IL 60608.
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