The Dallas Morning News' parent company is looking to sever the paper's historic ties to the Confederacy by dropping the name A.H. Belo.
Named after the paper's founder, Alfred Horatio Belo, who was a Confederate Army colonel, the company is now considering DallasNews Corp. for a new name. Robert W. Decherd, the company's chairman, president and CEO, addressed the decision in a call with investors.
“While this new name aligns with the company’s specific purposes and adds another dimension to our brand strategy, the impetus is my conviction and my recommendation to the board that we must collectively support our readers, our employees and our fellow citizens by embracing the social justice movement underway in America,” Decherd said. These calls are archived on the company's website.
The decision will ultimately be up to the shareholders in May, when it’s sent to them for approval.
“We are keenly aware that the relationship of our company’s name to a person who figured prominently in the Confederate Army is the source of discomfort, even pain, for many of our fellow citizens,” Decherd said during the call. “And that is intolerable to the leaders of this enterprise.”
Belo got involved with the company after the Civil War. His family had owned slaves, but he never did, Decherd said. Belo went to Houston in search of work and met Willie Richardson, the publisher of the oldest newspaper in the state, The Galveston Daily News. Richardson partnered with Belo to form Richardson, Belo, & Co.
After Richardson died, Belo became the sole owner of the company and renamed it accordingly in 1881.
About four years later, Belo sent George Bannerman Dealey to Dallas to form a sister publication to the Galveston paper named (you guessed it) The Dallas Morning News. The first issue of the DMN was published Oct. 1, 1885.
Decherd is Dealey’s great-grandson and a majority stakeholder in the company.
“The decision to adopt the name DallasNews Corporation is made out of respect for all of the company’s many valued constituents and we look forward to a bright future as DallasNews Corporation,” Decherd said.
Shenita Cleveland, a local activist and community leader, was pleased with the announcement of a possible name change.
“I can respect Robert Decherd for embracing movement and the need for social and racial justice in America and inside his own company," Cleveland said. “I think it’s a great move in the right direction. I know that George Bannerman Dealey would be proud of the change his great-grandson is making.”
While a name change may cut the publisher's ties to Belo, his mark is still left in other ways throughout the city, local author Edward Sebesta said. Sebesta sees himself as a cultural geographer working on "deracializing" the local landscape. He spends a lot of time tracking down the racist origins of local streets, buildings and parks. Then, he writes to officials or works with local activists to try to get them changed.
For example, there's the Belo Mansion where the Dallas Bar Association is housed. Hung on one of the walls are portraits of Belo and his son. "I'm sure they have many fliers and banners and programs about an inclusive workplace, the usual corporate chatter," Sebesta said. "But you know, there you are, and there's this big portrait of this Confederate."
Then there's the A.H. Belo Camp 49, which was formed by the Dallas chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. It's an unreconstructed camp. The group, website and Facebook page "are our unapologetic tributes to the Colonel as we seek to bring the truth to our fellow Southrons and others in an age of political correctness and unrepentant yankee lies about our people, our culture, our heritage and our history," their bio reads. The group did not respond for comment.
The move to rename the newspaper's parent company comes as Confederate monuments and symbols in Texas and across the country come crashing down. In January, the Dallas City Council voted unanimously to rename a portion of Lamar Street after Botham Jean, a Black man killed by an off-duty police officer in 2018.
The street had been named after Mirabeau B. Lamar, the second president of the short-lived Republic of Texas. Lamar was known for being exceptionally racist.
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