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Clara McLaughlin, 1939-2021: Owner of Florida Star spent a lifetime in journalism as trailblazer for Black community

"All the doors that she kicked down, she was definitely right there making sure other folks had the opportunity as well,” her daughter said.

FLORIDA, USA — Clara Jackson McLaughlin, owner and publisher of the Florida Star newspaper, died Sunday in hospice care at her daughter's house in Houston. She was 81.

Mrs. McLaughlin bought the paper, which is aimed at Jacksonville's Black community, in 2002. A native of Brunswick, Ga., and a veteran of TV and radio, she also published the Georgia Star.

Both weekly papers were in large part a family affair, with friends pitching in to make sure they got in the hands of readers.

Her daughter, Rinetta McLaughlin Fefie of Houston, a nurse, helps manage the paper and in the past has written articles, taken photos, collected bills and pitched in with delivery. "Did a little bit of everything, to be honest," she said.

Her mother kept her presence at the paper even when ill into the summer. "My mother always believed that the community deserved to have as much information as possible to make the best decision for themselves, their families," Fefie said.

For now, she said, the family will continue to run the newspaper, which "definitely has a place" in the future. "But there are no options off the table right now,” she said. “That’s my opinion, I’m not speaking for my brother or sister.”

Mrs. McLauglin was born on Oct. 22, 1939, in Brunswick, where her family had deep roots. Her mother's family also had property on Cumberland Island, Ga., and were founding members of the old First African Baptist Church, where in 1996 John F. Kennedy Jr. and Carolyn Bessette were married in a secret ceremony.

After her family moved to Florida in Gainesville, she went to all-Black Lincoln High School. Already a budding journalist, she produced and distributed a school newsletter. After a stint in the Navy in San Diego, she graduated from Howard University where she was yearbook editor and pushed to established a journalism major program.

She later moved to Houston and became owner of an East Texas TV station, KLMG, at least in part, she said, to better reflect the lives of women and minorities. A statement from her paper and the Florida Star said that made the first Black person to own a CBS affiliate station.

After having a child, she wrote a childcare book called "The Black Parents’ Handbook," with proceeds that went to her sorority, Zeta Phi Beta.

She received a distinguished alumni award from Howard and dined with several U.S. presidents, her family said.

After moving to Jacksonville to take over the Florida Star, she also hosted a radio program called "Impact" that focused on the importance of business growth.

Fefie said her mother was driven by a desire to be the best at everything she attempted, while helping others along the way.

"All the doors that she kicked down, she was definitely right there making sure other folks had the opportunity as well,” she said.

Cheryl Coward, a journalist in California's Silicon Valley, is a niece of Mrs. McLaughlin. She too worked at the Florida Star and Georgia Star.

“People put a lot of hours into that newspaper," she said. "It was a labor of love, and the neighborhood relied on it. A lot of the time the Black community wanted to hear the voices of the people they know.”

The social pages were popular, as was a pullout section with puzzles and horoscopes. "I would help out on deliveries, and people would be waiting, especially the elderly people — they always wanted their puzzles," she said.

Coward said some people questioned her aunt after she bought the newspapers, wondering why she would take on such a challenge. “A lot of it is the legacy of our family, that your life should have an element of service behind it," she said. “And disseminating accurate information to the Black community was her mission."

The family is asking friends who have stories about her to send them to the Florida Star via mail P.O. Box 40629, Jacksonville, FL 32203, or email info@thefloridastar.com. No services have yet been set, family said Wednesday.

In addition to Fefie, Mrs. McLaughlin is survived by her son. Richard McLaughlin of Dallas, a grandson, brother David Jackson of Gainesville and sister Torri Toliver of Houston. Her husband, Richard McLaughlin, a physician, died in 2017.

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