Claudia Whitworth

Claudia Sedonia Alexander Whitworth, born in Fayetteville, WV, in 1927, the daughter of Rev. F.E. Alexander and Sedonia (Rotan) Alexander, began her early years in Lynchburg. Her multitasking father served as pastor of Rustburg Baptist Church taught printing at the Virginia Theological Seminary and College and ran a private printing business.  In 1935, Whitworth and siblings, Frieda & F.E., Jr., moved to Christiansburg where her father took over as pastor of First Memorial Baptist Church and continued his printing business, the Tribune. After completing first and second grades in Lynchburg, Whitworth attended Quaker schools in Christiansburg, her only option. She graduated from Christiansburg Institute at age 16.

She briefly attended Bluefield State, although her mother was a 1922 graduate of Ohio State and three of Whitworth’s four aunts were all college graduates, and all were educators. Whitworth says she was the “rebel” and wanted to find her own way in the world. She pulled out a big geography book and, using a somewhat unconventional method, chose her first move from home. A place she says, “where I didn’t know anyone.”  “The map had big dots for big cities, little dots for little cities,” she says. “I wanted a medium dot. I figured that in a big city, I’d just be a hick. In a little city, there wouldn’t be enough work.” She chose Dayton, Ohio. From earnings selling newspapers door-to-door, Whitworth purchased a one-way train ticket.  Finding a job in the printing business there turned out to be difficult as most were union shops, and she was still a teenager. So, she took a job as a waitress by telling them she was 21.

After her limited stay in Dayton, she relocated to New York where she took her first newspaper job working as a linotype operator for the New York Age, the African American newspaper, co-founded by Timothy Thomas Fortune, a former slave. There were no women working in the composition rooms at that time, and it was heavy work changing typefaces.  Following New York, Whitworth worked on the Cleveland Herald, and Ohio State Sentinel in Columbus, Ohio for brief intervals, returning home to Roanoke between each to help her father in the family business, The Roanoke Tribune, founded in 1939. In the summer of 1945, Whitworth joined her father at the Tribune.

After her marriage to Robert Hale in 1952, the couple relocated to Los Angeles, CA. The family’s stay in California was short-lived. Following the birth of her first son, Robyn, the family returned to VA.  Back in Roanoke, Whitworth gave birth to twins, Steven and Stanley, fourteen months after Robyn was born. Tragically, Steven did not survive.   Daughter, Eva, joined Robyn and Stanley ten years later.

In 1971, following her father’s car accident in Roanoke and subsequent retirement, Whitworth purchased the Roanoke Tribune thus beginning her long tenure at the paper’s helm. Whitworth realized the responsibility she and her paper had to the African American community using the power of the press as a means of uniting a divided community.

The Tribune has never missed a weekly edition under Whitworth’s leadership despite many obstacles. In 1979 following confrontations with the City of Roanoke during the revitalization of Gainsboro, she lost nearly everything when her office was firebombed destroying all records, however the antiquated printing equipment went unscathed.  History repeated itself in 1983 when one morning, Whitworth arrived at the newspaper to find the city had bulldozed the plant. Unbelievably, Whitworth’s new photo typesetting machine had been temporarily set up in her home while she was taking care of her ailing father. The Roanoke Tribune relocated to its present location on Melrose Avenue. Unfortunately, earlier that same year, Whitworth’s husband, Clifton B. Whitworth, Jr. lost his 12-year battle with cancer end.  The couple was a dynamic force and served as ambassadors for the northwest quadrant of Roanoke.

In 1991, Whitworth also purchased the building next door, remodeled, and opened it as a community center. Her goal was to provide a place for instilling a sense of worth, responsibility and mutual respect in neighborhood youth who also helped with the weekly mailing and distribution of The Roanoke Tribune.

This sense of service pervades all aspects of Whitworth’s life extending throughout the Roanoke community and beyond. She has served on the Norfolk State University’s President’s Roundtable and Board of Visitors and chaired the Employee Relations Committee of the Welfare Reform Commission during the Wilder Administration. Locally she has served on numerous boards that provided health care, clothing, shelter to restore human dignity.  She currently serves on the Roanoke City Bahai Local Spiritual Assembly.        

Among the many honors, Whitworth considers her first recognition the most amazing. In 1976 she was listed in a publication in Washington, DC in a Pictorial Review of “Selected Leaders” among such greats as Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Mary McLeod Bethune, and others, “At a time when I had done absolutely nothing that anyone could ever have heard of.” She claims this miracle to be the propelling motivation behind the rest of her life of service.

Today, the Roanoke Tribune continues as a real “family affair,” as she, son Stan, daughter Lauren, and grandchildren, triplets Kenneth, Kaitlyn and Klaudia Shaw, work together with a great staff to get out each meaningful edition.

Claudia Whitworth was inducted into the Southwest Virginia Business Hall of Fame in 2009.

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