French (middle), with state Rep. Wendell Gillard (left) and S.C. Sen. Marlon Kimpson (right) | Photo courtesy Gilliard

Longtime newspaper publisher James J. “Jim” French, 94, died Saturday, less than three weeks shy of the 50th anniversary of The Chronicle, the Black community newspaper he started in Charleston in 1971.

“Over the years the publication has become South Carolina’s premier newspaper advocating the Black community,” local journalist Barney Blakeney wrote in a 2016 story about French’s 90th birthday. “As a member of the National Newspaper Publishers Association, the paper is nationally recognized for its cutting edge journalism and coverage of issues pertinent to the black community.”

James John French, who was born Oct. 26, 1926, in Kansas City, Kansas, joined the Navy in the late 1940s and became a journalist. He served in Vietnam where he received the Bronze Star Medal and a Presidential Citation.

“While in the military, French was a photojournalist,” Blakeney wrote. “He also was a manager for radio and television stations on naval bases in Spain, Cuba and Puerto Rico. He has interviewed such world-famous personalities as President Dwight David Eisenhower, Fidel Castro and actress Ava Gardner.

“He’s filed stories and photographs from the decks of aircraft carriers and a nuclear submarine. He was the first photojournalist assigned to the Mekong Delta with the U.S. Army’s 9th Infantry Division.”

In 1969 while stationed in Charleston, French retired from the Navy after 21 years of service. Two years later on Aug. 19, 1971, he founded The Chronicle. 

“The weekly paper earned a reputation for its uncut presentation of the issues which impacted the Black community especially,” Blakeney wrote in the profile. “French earned a reputation for his no-holds-barred style of journalism. The publication attracted advocates for the Black community which included other journalists, activists, community leaders, clergy and politicians.”

French filled his newspaper “with pages communicating a sense of black culture, thought and history,” Blakeney wrote. Through the years, the publisher received many accolades for his focus on building his adopted community.

“Under his leadership, the Charleston Chronicle has received recognition from the South Carolina Press Association, and received special recognition on many occasions from the National Newspapers Publishers Association,” according to a 2012 law passed by the S.C. General Assembly to rename the Avondale juncture of U.S. Highway 17 and Magnolia Road as the “James J. French Intersection.” French later received the Order of the Palmetto from the state. In 2016, the city of Charleston proclaimed Oct. 22 as “Jim French Day.”

French turned over the day-to-day operations of The Chronicle to his family in 2015, but reportedly remained active. In recent months, the newspaper’s publication has been infrequent.

Funeral arrangements are being handled by Murray’s Mortuary of North Charleston. A public viewing will be held 4-7 p.m. Friday at the mortuary, 4060 Rivers Ave. A celebration of life will be held 12 p.m. Saturday at the Alfred Williams Community Life Center, 4441 Durant Ave. in North Charleston.

ALSO: Read a 2018 City Paper profile of The Chronicle by Adam Manno.