Lexington standard (The)


Lexington standard (The)


The Lexington Standard was founded by William Decker (W.D.) Johnson in 1892. The four-page weekly is today regarded as one of the most notable African-American newspapers in the country, although only a handful of issues are known to have survived. Johnson used the paper to assert his views on African American life, civil rights, and religious awareness but, after just five years, in 1897, he sold the paper to Robert Charles O’Hara (R.C.O.) Benjamin.

A native of St. Kitts Island in the West Indies, Benjamin came to America and quickly established himself as a well-known lawyer, author, and, journalist. Before coming to the Lexington Standard, he wrote for, edited, or owned more than 11 African American newspapers and worked for a variety of other newspapers around the country, the Daily Sun--a white-owned paper in Los Angeles and New York’s Progressive American among them.

Benjamin was an outspoken critic of American segregation and Jim Crow laws, and he had a strong interest in politics. The Standard was a perfect fit for him. To be sure, Benjamin had aroused concern from both whites and blacks alike well before coming to the Standard. He was at once criticized and beloved for his frankness, as it was extreme for the period. Benjamin’s aggressive and confrontational tactics had forced him to flee several locales, but he would never leave Lexington. On October 2, 1900, Benjamin got into an argument with a white precinct worker, Michael Moynihan, over voter registration for local African American citizens. That same evening, Moynihan killed Benjamin on a Lexington street. Claiming self-defense, Moynihan was acquitted of the murder, even though he had shot Benjamin in the back more than six times.

After Benjamin’s death, editors came and went, but the Lexington Standard never again enjoyed its former popularity. In 1908, W.D. Johnson returned to the paper hoping to reverse its decline. The difficulties continued, prompting Johnson to sell the Standard in 1912 to three local men: Rev. A.W. Davis, former pastor of Lexington’s Constitution Street Christian Church, who became editor; Prof. D. L. Reid, who served as secretary; and Ed Willis, the superintendent of the famed Patchen Wilkes thoroughbred stock farm, who acted as treasurer. The new management changed the name of the paper to the Lexington Weekly News “on account of financial and other troubles of The Standard,” and the first issue appeared on March 15, 1912.

Despite these changes, the paper’s misfortunes continued. By May 31, Willis announced that he had bought out Davis and Reid owing to “bad management.” Willis implored the African American community in the Bluegrass region to support the Weekly News through subscriptions and advertisements. Willis also urged readers to be mindful of the coming presidential election in which he openly supported William Howard Taft’s Republican ticket. Like its predecessor, only three issues of the Lexington Weekly News are known to have survived, all from 1912. It is unclear precisely when publication ceased or why.


R.C.O. Benjamin





See Notable Kentucky African Americans Database for more on R.C.O. Benjamin.
Photo of the R.C.O. Benjamin Family (displayed above) available in ExploreUK
Benjamin biography by scholar George C. Wright available at American National Biography.
Benjamin's Lexington grave location through Find A Grave.
Additional photos of R.C.O. Benjamin available in NYPL Digital Collections
Full list of African American newspapers in Kentucky available in the Notable Kentucky African Americans (NKAA) Database.


Kentucky, Fayette, Lexington


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University of Kentucky Libraries, “Lexington standard (The),” Kentucky Digital Newspaper Program Exhibits, accessed June 19, 2021, https://kdnpx.omeka.net/items/show/7.

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