Futrell wins first-place award in national contest

Published 12:19 pm Thursday, July 24, 2008

By Staff
Washington Daily News’ first national journalism award since 18 years ago
Newsroom Manager
Ashley B. “Brownie” Futrell Jr., president and publisher of the Washington Daily News, has won national acclaim this year for an column he wrote a year ago.
Futrell’s award came from the National Newspaper Association’s Better Newspaper Contest. Each year, the association’s contest honors the best in community-newspaper journalism.
Futrell took the first-place award for the best serious column in the daily division of community newspapers with circulations of less than 16,000.
Racial history of the Turnage Theater in Washington was the topic of the column.
The column ran in the Washington Daily News on Sept. 29, 2007, alongside an article in the paper that previewed the Nov. 3, 2007, gala opening of the Turnage Theater after a 10-year restoration effort.
Futrell’s award is the first national journalism award for the Washington Daily News since the paper won four major awards in 1990, including the Pulitzer Prize for Meritorious Public Service.
The award will be presented to Futrell during the National Newspaper Association’s 122nd annual convention Sept. 27, 2008, in St. Paul, Minn.
The National Newspaper Association was established in 1885 to protect, promote and enhance community newspapers.
According to the National Newspaper Association’s Web site, “The distinguishing characteristic of a community newspaper is its commitment to serving the information needs of a particular community. The community is defined by the community’s members and a shared sense of belonging. A community may be geographic, political, social or religious. A community newspaper may be published once a week or daily. Some community newspapers exist only in cyberspace. Any newspaper that defines itself as committed to serving a particular community may be defined as a community newspaper.
Setting the stage for moral rehabilitation / Reprint of winning column
By Ashley B. Futrell Jr.
I have never seen a performance from the balcony of the Turnage Theater.
As the phase-one restoration of the Turnage nears completion, many Washington residents have elicited fond memories of the building. Granted, of course, that those reveling in the nostalgia are white.
Although Washington’s black leadership has been very gracious in its support of the restoration efforts, it is not hard to understand why the black community, in general, has been less than enthusiastic about embracing the project. For many blacks in Washington, the Turnage Theater does not bring back a rush of warm memories.
In my childhood, there were three distinct vestiges of institutionalized racism that remain both clear and troubling to me. The first, obviously, is represented by the schools. I did not experience total integration until I was in the seventh grade. Secondly, I remember segregated waiting rooms in doctors’ offices. The final agent of Jim Crow is the Turnage Theater.
Simply put, in my childhood, blacks were relegated to the balcony. Saturday after Saturday, I found a comfortable seat downstairs and up front.
Given the scarred and racist past of the Turnage Theater, does it really deserve our continued full support for its total restoration? The answer is a resounding “yes,” with one simple caveat.
The Turnage deserves not only a total physical rehabilitation; it demands a moral rehabilitation as well. Once the theater is rebuilt and ready to once again host performances, it needs to be dedicated to the ideal that the facility has been reborn as a venue to serve all people — a powerful and much needed catharsis.
In that spirit, I would love to see an early public performance in the cleansed Turnage to be one of my favorite black blues guitarists, a musical legend like B.B. King, Taj Mahal or Robert Cray.
I will be there, in a new seat, with a new perspective. With any luck at all, I will be in the balcony.