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Journalism at its best! Remembering Publisher James John French

We reflect on James John “Jim” French life and career as a successful journalist, navy veteran, family man, and his contributions to the community.

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Photo: Denva G Photography

Mr. James John French, 94, of Charleston, SC, beloved husband of Mrs. Olivia Jackson French and publisher and editor of The Charleston Chronicle, entered into eternal rest on Saturday, July 31, 2021.

Retired Chief Petty Officer James John “Jim” French, Sr., was born October 7, 1926, in Kansas City, Kansas to Thomas J. French and Anna Miller French.  He was married 69 years to Olivia Jackson French and to this union three children were born.

Education – Jim received his early education in Kansas City, Kansas.  After graduating from high school, he attended journalism school in Topeka, Kansas. 

Military Service – Jim enlisted in the United States Navy in 1948 and retired in 1969.  His distinguished service took him around the world. While in the Navy, Jim was assigned as a photo-journalist with the Navy’s ALL Hands Magazine. He was a station manager for radio and television stations on Naval bases in Spain, Cuba, and Puerto Rico.

On the national level, Jim interviewed such world-famous personalities as President Dwight D. Eisenhower, Fidel Castro, the Queen of Greece, and Actress Ava Gardner.  He has filed stories and photographs from the decks of several aircraft carriers and a nuclear submarine and was the first photo-journalist assigned to the Mekong Delta in Vietnam with the U. S. Army 9th Infantry Division.  Among his citations were the Bronze Star and Presidential Citation.

Career – After retiring from the Navy, Jim decided to try his hand at his own newspaper employing his family and training them in all aspects of the business. The Chronicle was founded on August 19, 1971.  During peak operation, the circulation reached over 6,000 readers locally and nationally. The philosophy of the Chronicle has been fair and impartial reporting of Black news. Despite Jim’s many financial setbacks, he ran a successful business for 45 years until his health began to decline.  In 2016, he turned the paper over to his grandsons, Tolbert Jr and Damien, to ensure the paper lives on.  The Chronicle is a long-standing member of the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA).  NNPA is the largest Black-owned media with over 200 Black-owned media groups. Jim attended many of NNPA’s workshops and conventions.  He received hundreds of awards from organizations throughout the Lowcountry and nation.  The Chronicle won first place in the South Carolina Press Association competition and many special awards from NNPA. 

Community Service – Jim was very involved in the Charleston Community and surrounding areas.  He managed the American Legion on Romney Street for several years. He was a past member of the Interdenominational Ministers Alliance (IMA), Charleston’s Black Chamber of Commerce, Emancipation Proclamation Association, and the NAACP. Ironically, Jim helped many aspiring politicians get elected to office but ran unsuccessfully for Charleston City Council. The City of Charleston proclaimed October 22 “Jim French Day.”.

Family – He leaves to cherish his memories:  his beloved wife, Olivia Jackson French; one son, James French, Jr; three daughters, Nanette French Smalls (Tolbert, Sr.), Simona French, and Jennifer Johnson (Lt. Colonel Nicholas); eight grandchildren, Jamicka, Lashante, Tolbert, Jr. (Aleiya), Damien, Jordan, Ryan, Julian, and Kellan; eight great-grandchildren, Aaliya, Jasmine, Gabriella, Mia, Mikkel, Trey, Arrion and Amari; two brothers-in-law, Michael Jackson (Patrice) of Fredericksburg, VA and John Thomas (Mae) of Fredericksburg, VA; two sisters-in-law, Loretta Clark of Woodbridge, VA and Helen Jackson of Washington, DC; and a host of nieces, nephews, cousins, other relatives, and friends.

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