A Negro Leagues pitcher who started Dallas’ first black weekly in the late 1940s has died. William “Bill” Blair Jr., was an athlete, a newspaper publisher, and a civil rights activist. He was 92.
If he wore a hat, had a cigar in his mouth, and carried a handful of newspapers under his arms, then it was likely Bill Blair, bringing his ELite (pronounced E-light) publication to the community.
“We will always have that debate, whether it was the Elite News or the E-lite News, but he said it was the E-lite, so it was the E-lite News," said State Sen. Royce West.
West says Blair was the go-to guy when he was running for district attorney in Dallas in the 1980s.
“Mr. Blair was effective,” West said. “He didn’t care if you were a congressperson or a dog catcher. If he thought he needed to tell you something, he made sure that he told you.”
West says Blair was instrumental in local and state politics.
“We’ll remember him for bringing together the community,” West said. “For not mincing words, and making certain that those of us that have come behind him understand the road that he traveled, understand the history of Dallas, and hopefully that we will take those nuggets, and take the baton, and continue to move Dallas forward.”
The former Negro Leagues pitcher was a civil rights activist for six decades. He also served as an advocate for pastors across the country, says Cheryl Smith, president of the Dallas-Fort Worth Association of Black Journalists.
“The church community, that’s where he really wanted to make a difference,” Smith said. “I think that was the catalyst for him starting the paper.”
Smith, who publishes I-Messenger, an online newsmagazine about global politics, says Blair was a journalist.
“He was really big on documenting history,” Smith said. “He was an African griot, a storyteller, a person who chronicles our history.”
The UT-Arlington Special Collections Library now holds newspapers from Blair. Smith says Blair’s legacy will live on through that collection, and the Elite weekly, but also through the Martin Luther King Jr. Parade in Dallas, which Blair started more than three decades ago.