While the late James Brown may forever hold the title of the hardest working man in show business, Barbara Gordon is, by far, the hardest working woman in Augusta. Maybe even the CSRA.
As publisher of The Metro Courier for past 30 years, Gordon has dedicated her life to informing, inspiring and serving Augusta’s black community with a no-nonsense attitude.
She is a woman who is not afraid to speak her mind.
“It is my belief that we are so endeared in this community because we make a difference and speak the truth,” Gordon said, proudly walking through her newspaper’s office located in a small, blue house off Walton Way directly across from May Park. “The original slogan of the black press was, ‘For too many years, others have pled our cause. Now, we wish to plead our own.’ And I live by that.”
For the past three decades, Gordon has made it her mission to call out local politicians who don’t keep their promises and betray the needs of their constituents.
“Over here at the Courier, we do our part for our community. What I want my black leadership to do is do their part,” she said, adding that she has been extremely disappointed with many of the local leaders lately. “I’m not pleased at all. And these comments will not go over well with them, but guess what? I don’t care. I’m not here to win a popularity contest. I’m here to serve.”
Whether it is Augusta’s lack of oversight regarding millions of federal dollars spent by the city’s Housing and Community Development Department each year or the Augusta Commission’s recent discussion over designating almost 600 acres of the downtown area as a “slum,” Gordon says she sometimes can’t believe the mindset of some of the local leaders.
“It just surprises me that our leadership, black and white, do things that seem to be so counterproductive,” Gordon said, shaking her head. “Like this slum designation. Are they crazy? Do they not know that is going to come back and haunt them?”
While some small newspapers across the country would prefer to print safe feature stories rather than risk offending people will controversial editorials and hard-hitting news, Gordon insists readers won’t find a lot of “fluff” in the Courier.
“When I am in a controversial situation, the only thing that I can say to people is, ‘God hasn’t given me a spirit of fear,’” Gordon said. “And he hasn’t. He has given me a spirit of serving, doing and making a difference.”
After 30 years, Gordon says she has earned the right to speak her mind
“One of my minister friends, the Rev. Gilbert Howard, stopped by one time when I was going through a difficult time and told me, ‘Barbara, you don’t understand. This paper is your ministry,’” Gordon said. “When God wants us to serve, he puts us in the positions he wants us to serve in. And I think this is one that he picked out for me, ideally, given my personality and my fortitude.”
Therefore, Gordon does not shy away from the fact that she believes many of the problems facing Augusta are due to its racial divide.
“People will say, ‘You make everything racial. Why?’ The answer is: Because it is,” Gordon said. “It is an unfortunate situation, but it is a real situation. And it really irritates me when you have folks, black and white, who want to skirt around that. No, no, no. You don’t solve the problem unless you deal with the core of the problem.”
There are times when being politically correct will only hurt the community in the long run, Gordon said.
“I look at the black leadership in our community and I don’t like wishy-washy people,” she said. “Our parents brought us a long way to get us to where we can speak up and speak out.
“Now, we are getting the caliber of leadership — and it is not all of them, but it is the majority — who want to be politically correct. Sometimes an issue is unconditional and non-negotiable.”
There is one leader in the black community that Gordon says she has been extremely impressed with over the past few years.
“Augusta Commissioner Bill Lockett is a Godsend,” she said. “Commissioner Lockett is no joke. We recently gave him our Spirit of the Community Award. Why? Because it’s hard to stand alone and fight.”
Lockett says the respect is mutual.
“I think Ms. Barbara Gordon over the past 30 years has done an outstanding job in this community,” Lockett said. “Her paper is a great asset and I don’t know how we could possibly get along without it.”
Gordon also says she respects Augusta Commissioner Marion Williams’ willingness to fight for what he believes in, despite the criticism he often receives from his colleagues.
“We need a Marion Williams,” she said. “They say I’m a radical and racial. That is not necessarily true. What I am is committed and dedicated to my community. I am always going to do what I know to be right and righteous. That is the kind of leadership we need.”
Not politicians who will say one thing privately and then turn around and act the complete opposite in public, Gordon said.
“You have these mayor’s prayer breakfasts and then you go right back to a commission meeting and everything is still down racial lines,” Gordon said. “Skip the breakfasts, as far as I’m concerned, and deal with the issues. I don’t want you to pray with me on Monday and then vote for something that really hurts my community on Tuesday. That doesn’t sit well with me.”
When Gordon first decided to open the Courier back in 1983, she already had a driving passion for journalism thanks to one of her professors at Paine College, Dr. Mallory Millender.
“I had one course of journalism at Paine and I fell in love. The spirit and the fire that I have in me was planted by Mallory Millender,” Gordon said, adding that, at the time, Millender was also the publisher of his own newspaper, the Augusta News-Review. “I don’t think I could say enough about Mallory and the course that he set me on. People really do need mentors, especially young folks. When Mallory gave me the opportunity, it opened a whole different world for me.”
Once Gordon graduated from Paine College, Millender decided to offer her a position as a reporter at the Augusta News-Review. Gordon quickly moved her way up to advertising manager and then general manager while working for Millender.
She had an incredible work ethic and an unstoppable drive to serve the community, Millender said.
“There was a time when I was in an auto accident and I was hospitalized for three weeks,” Millender said. “Barbara literally ran my newspaper for me until I could get back on my feet.”
When Gordon began thinking about launching her own paper, she originally planned to serve only Burke, Jenkins and Jefferson counties.
“Those are predominately black counties,” Gordon said. “I never had any intentions of coming into the metro Augusta market.”
But, shortly after Gordon started her newspaper, the Augusta News-Review was forced to close its doors, so that’s when Gordon decided to introduce The Metro Courier to Augusta.
“During the earlier years, it was really difficult because advertisers wait three years to see if you fail,” Gordon said. “They don’t wait to see if you succeed, they wait to see if you fail before they commit themselves to you.”
The amount of time and labor involved in producing each issue was also draining, Gordon said.
“It was very hard back then because we were cutting and pasting,” she said. “We were working until 3 or 4 o’clock in the morning to make sure we got our paper out.”
But Gordon never gave up because she knew the paper played a vital role in the community.
“People have leaned on Barbara’s newspaper for a sense of the truth,” Millender said, adding that Gordon and the Courier never have any hidden agendas. “I think people trust Barbara. I think they trust her editorial endorsements. I think that she is one of the real galvanizing forces in Augusta, certainly in the black community.
“She can bring the community together by herself. And she often does through her newspaper in terms of rallying the community. She has the courage and charisma to do that. There are not many people you can say that about.”
These days, Gordon says she is blessed to have a reliable and passionate staff to help her get the paper out each week. But she admits, she wasn’t always so fortunate.
“Personnel has been a nightmare from hell,” Gordon said, laughing. “Everybody who is looking for a job doesn’t want to work. They don’t understand that job equates work.”
For a position at a small newspaper, there is no such thing as working regular hours, she said.
“At a newspaper, there is no real 9-to-5. There never will be,” Gordon said. “You have to love this and you have to be dedicated to this.
“If I would have been paid for all the hours that I have put in at the Courier, I would be on Easy Street,” Gordon added, chuckling. “I would be in Morocco living in a plush palace.”
Now that Gordon, 63, has a dependable staff in place, she insists that it is time for her to begin taking a “step back” from the newspaper and allow the “younger folks” to take over.
“I want some more personal time to grow in my faith,” Gordon said, adding that her church, Greater Young Zion Baptist Church, and its Pastor William Bruce Blount, have taught her a lot about herself over the years. “I don’t have to fight so hard anymore. My approach to fights are different now. I don’t have to kick butts and take names.”
Gordon has also written her first all-female production called, “An Evening of Signified Sisters” that she hopes to produce next year at the Kroc Center.
“It is going to feature song, dance and dramatic dialogue,” Gordon said. “I want my community to see the other side of me.”
She also plans on studying the piano, writing short stories and spending a lot of time fishing on her three-acre pond in Burke County.
“I’m tired. I need a break,” she said, laughing. “These young folks are helping me to get my foot out of the door. I still love it. I am going to always love it and I’m going to always be committed to it. However, I am going to step back a little bit.
“But don’t worry, I am going to make sure that these young folks stay committed to the same thing that I’ve been committed to all these years.
“There ain’t going to be no fluff up in here.”