William Lee founded and was the publisher of The Sacramento Observer, the city’s African-American newspaper. Lee served in the publisher role for over 50 years. He died on September 22 at age 83. Since his death, he has been memorialized in many places, including the LA Times. He was a leader in the city he called home, but also nationally.
William Lee was born on May 29, 1936, in Austin, Texas. His family moved to Sacramento in the early 1940s. Lee went to Sacramento State for two years and graduated from UC Berkeley with a BA in accounting in 1957. He received an honorary PhD from Southeastern University in 1970.
Early in his career, Lee worked at Aerojet, IBM and owned a real estate company. That led him to founding The Observer with radio man Geno Gladden and businessman John W. Cole on November 22, 1962. Then, in 1965, after Gladden died, Lee and his wife, Kathryn, became the sole owners of the paper. At that same time, they started the Lee Publishing Company which grew over the next 20 years. At one point, the company published six publications in California and Nevada — including in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Stockton, Solano County, Reno and Sacramento.
His son, Larry Lee, is the current president and CEO of The Observer. He talks about his father and the many contributions he made over many years.
Watch William and Larry Lee discuss the Sacramento Observer on Studio Sacramento here.