Ralph Matthews Jr., a former editor of the Baltimore-based Afro-American newspapers who followed his father into the newspaper business, died April 3 after a brief illness, his wife, Sharon, told Journal-isms by telephone. He was 87 and lived in Hyattsville, Md., outside Washington.
Matthews was last in this column in 2004, when he and his son, screenwriter David Matthews, appeared on CBS-TV's "Sunday Morning." David Matthews had written a memoir about his passing for white.
"Ralph Matthews told Journal-isms he started at the Afro as a cub reporter in 1950, working for the Afro newspapers on and off until 1986. By then he had been managing editor for 10 years," this column reported.
"According to 'The Baltimore Afro-American: 1892-1950' by Hayward Farrar, David Matthews has quite a newspaper lineage. His grandfather, Ralph Matthews Sr., was the Afro's answer to H.L. Mencken, who was writing for the Baltimore Sun. He 'became a power in the Afro, serving as the theatrical editor, city editor, managing editor, and editor of the Washington Afro-American. A witty and acerbic man, Matthews had one or two columns in the Afro-American from the 1920s onward. In them he lampooned sacred cows in the black community, such as the black church and its ministers, black politicians, black society and the institutions of marriage and family.'
"David Matthews was 'raised entirely by his father after his mother returned to Israel,' the CBS piece said. Asked what he thought of his son's 'passing,' Ralph Matthews said on the show, 'I call it doing what you have to do.'"
Bret McCabe wrote in 2007 in the Baltimore City Paper, "Ralph Matthews Jr., also light-skinned, graduated from Frederick Douglass High School, attended Syracuse University, graduated from Morgan State University, and was part of that generation who invented 'cool' in the 1950s and '60s. He worked for a number of black publications in New York and hung out at jazz spots with people like James Baldwin, wrote puff pieces about upstarts like Miles Davis, and eventually helped found a newspaper, New York Citizen Call, through which he befriended Malcolm X. . . . "
David Matthews wrote in his book, "Ace of Spades: A Memoir," that both his grandmother and father had the opportunity to pass for white but rejected it. David Matthews "knew some of his family's history but had to revisit his father to get the particulars. 'My dad is sort of a natural raconteur, so ever since I was born I've always listened to all the stories about all the people he had known and hung out with," Matthews says. "So, you know, it was like, 'That's great, Dad, Malcolm X and you were blah blah blah. Got it.' I was a kid — I didn't know better.' . . ."
Sharon Matthews said that her husband willed his body to science and that she plans a memorial service next month.