Back Margaret Black, “A Christmas Party That Prevented a Split in the Church”

Margaret Black (fl. 1895–1920)
From American Christmas Stories

The Murphy family, c. 1920. Martha (seated, at left) and her husband, John (seated, center), who purchased The Afro-American newspaper in 1897. (Afro-American Newspaper Archives, via Atlas Obscura.)

The Baltimore-based weekly newspaper The Afro-American is celebrating its 130th year—and for 125 of those years it has been operated by the same family. The paper, now known simply as the Afro, is currently run by the great- and great-great-grandchildren of John H. Murphy, Sr., the man who rescued it from oblivion in 1897.

One of those descendants, Savannah Wood, has been spearheading the effort to organize and preserve the newspaper’s archives, which are loaded with uncatalogued content. “Everybody knows Rosa Parks, but who are the people standing with her?” she wondered recently in an interview. “What role did they play in the wider civil rights movement? What can we learn about their lives? I’m curious to learn more about these communities around the main characters, if you want to call them that, in our history.”

One of the many items resuscitated from its past issues is a Christmas story by Margaret Black, first published in 1916 and reprinted in 1997 by the esteemed historian Bettye Collier-Thomas. Although Black wrote for The Afro-American for a quarter of a century, had her own weekly column for several years, published a few short stories in its pages, and seems to have been active in local women’s clubs and in the movement for women’s suffrage, we know virtually nothing about her—not even when or where she was born or what happened to her after she stopped writing for the paper. As the archives become available to researchers in the coming years, perhaps more information about her will be revealed.

In the meantime, we have “A Christmas Party That Prevented a Split in the Church,” an unusual (for its time) and humorous look into the lives of middle-class Black women who lived in small-town America. It has been included in the recent Library of America collection American Christmas Stories and we present it in full as our Story of the Week selection.

Read “A Christmas Party That Prevented a Split in the Church” by Margaret Black

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