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Ray Boone, crusading editor, ‘champion’ journalist, dead at 76

JEREMY M. LAZARUS | 6/12/2014, 6:19 p.m.
Raymond Harold "Ray" Boone

Richmond Free Press

RICHMOND, VA. (NNPA) – Raymond Harold “Ray” Boone had a snappy response when the infuriated commander at an Army outpost in South Carolina threatened to lock him in the stockade for staying seated when the band played the Southern anthem Dixie.

“Let’s go,” Boone, then a corporal, told the furious officer who backed down and let him off with a warning.

With his dander up, Boone sent a letter detailing the situation to then powerhouse New York Congressman Adam Clayton Powell Jr., whom he knew.

That resulted in a call from the White House to the commander questioning his actions toward Boone and his order that soldiers stand at attention for the song. Boone had no further problems.

That story from Boone’s experience in the military speaks volumes about his fearless approach to dealing with wrongs – as a journalist for more than 60 years and as a person. The dapper founding editor/publisher of the Richmond Free Press refused to be intimidated during his 22 years at the helm – seeing himself as continuing the legacy of his journalism hero, John Mitchell Jr., the “fighting editor” of the Richmond Planet who carried pistols and dared White supremacists to lynch him for writing about the injustices of his day.

A true believer in the First Amendment and the U.S. Constitution, Boone vigorously championed democratic values, with an emphasis on justice and equality for all, never forgetting the harsh segregation conditions he dealt with growing up in his native Suffolk, Virginia.

As one of his admirers put it, “he was the undisputed, undefeated heavyweight champion of journalistic pugilism.”

Boone’s role as an influential community leader ended June 3 when he lost his battle with pancreatic cancer. He died “peacefully in his sleep with a smile on his face,” said Jean Patterson Boone, his wife of 47 years and Free Press president of advertising. He was 76.

She vowed to continue “to operate the newspaper and maintain its mission to promote equality and fairness. That is the best way to honor my husband.”

Boone was active in the newspaper almost until the end, said his daughter Regina H. Boone, a photographer with the Detroit Free Press. “He knew what was going on. He was talking about what the headlines should be” for the May 29 edition, she said.

Boone built the newspaper into one of the largest weekly newspapers in the state in striving for lively reporting and strong opinions. He was involved in a variety of crusades. He named his longest-running campaign “Vote with your dollars” to encourage readers to use their spending power to reward companies that catered to them and to punish those that didn’t.

He also sought to brighten the city during the winter with his “Love Lights” campaign. Boone also pushed, poked and prodded governors, legislators, mayors and council members to do more business with Black-owned and minority firms. That pushing led former Gov. Mark Warner to investigate how well the state was doing and to overhaul Virginia’s program after a study shockingly found that less than one-half of 1 percent of state spending for goods and services went to Black and minority businesses.