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39th Annual Professional Recognition Awards and Scholarship Dinner

May 6, 2017, 6 PM cocktails, 7 PM dinner

at Drumlins Country Club, 800 Nottingham Road

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J. Luther Sylvahn

Progressive Herald

In the predominantly black neighborhood that once stood in the old 15th Ward on the eastern edge of downtown Syracuse, J. Luther Sylvahn was the picture of refinement. He played classical music on the violin.

He had an  extensive personal library. He wore felt hats with the brim side down and sported a Vandyke beard. He invested in real estate and dabbled in politics. And from 1933 to 1958, he gave voice to the local black community by publishing a weekly newspaper called the Progressive Herald.

The newspaper had a major impact on politics in the 15th Ward and beyond. Syracuse resident Marjory Wilkins said she looked forward to each week's edition and read the paper carefully. "The daily papers at
the time didn't carry news of the black community... unless it was bad news, " she said. "He (Sylvahn) pretty much told it like it was and people appreciated that." In a 1954 editorial, for example, here's what Sylvahn wrote about a proposal to build a housing project for blacks in either Fairmount or Salina: “We don't believe there are any Negroes in Syracuse stupid enough to want to bring any Jim Crow patterns with all of the unequal and second rate facilities and public services that would certainly accompany it, to this area." He was suspicious of "self-appointed reformers" who wanted to clean up the 15th Ward. "... this group will save you even if they kill you to do it!" he wrote. "The fact that an 88 year old widow who can only pay $15 per month for rent will be set into the streets two weeks hence because the reformers got the house in which she lived condemned makes no difference to them!"

Publishing The Progressive Herald was strictly a labor of love. Sylvahn, who died in 1977 at age 75, published the paper out of a red brick building at 815 E. Fayette St. - now the site of the Kennedy Square apartments - that served as both his home and office. "The office was part of his flat, "Syracuse native John A. Williams wrote in "Flashbacks, " a book published in the early 1970s. "Piles of Progressive Heralds rose from floor to ceiling and the place reeked of newsprint and stale paper."

The Progressive Herald was the first place Williams saw his words in print. "He (Sylvahn) was smart enough to realize I wanted a chance to write, and he let me do it, " Williams said.

Sylvahn was born in Alexandria, La. He attended Southern University of Baton Rouge, La., and Fisk University in Tennessee. 'An astute businessman' He bought several apartment buildings and rooming houses in the
15th Ward and made a living renting and managing them. Sylvahn founded the Progressive Herald in 1933. It was Syracuse's second black newspaper. The first, the Impartial Citizen, was founded in 1848 and folded after two years.

    "Woe to that nation whose literature is cut short by the intrusion of force. This is not merely interference with freedom of the press but the sealing up of a nation’s heart, the excision of its memory."
--Alexander Solzhenitsyn

Wall of Distinction

Kenneth Sparrow


Herald American

Kenneth F. Sparrow joined the Syracuse Herald in 1925 as a reporter. This followed a short stint with the Oswego Palladium, where he first worked after completing his studies at Oswego Normal School, now SUNY at Oswego.
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