Keith Clayborne in Black and White

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As the meeting breaks up, Clayborne walks downstairs, chatting with Terry Lewis, a native of Harlem. Lewis, now a doctoral candidate at Florida Atlantic University, praises Clayborne for raising uncomfortable questions. Lewis welcomes Clayborne's opining. He remains unfazed when Clayborne questions the ethics of such leaders as Walters and long-time Fort Lauderdale city commissioner Carlton Moore. He embraces Clayborne's call for a new black leadership style that can replace what the journalist calls the "old, emotional, sort of Baptist approach" with economic pragmatism.

"They see him as an outsider," Lewis says. "[They say,] "He's not from here, so what right does he have to mouth off?' Those hisses and stuff are related to a mindset in the black community. It has a history of oppression and racism, so that anybody who attacks black community leaders is seen as working with white people."

Most white readers never saw Clayborne's initial stories because they don't read so-called black newspapers, Lewis suggests with a smile. But many of the movers and shakers among Broward's nearly 300,000 blacks read them: The Broward Times cuts across the economic, social, and geographic boundaries of the black community "like a new wind," Lewis adds.

Outdoors the rain continues to fall. Clayborne climbs into his Mustang and begins the long drive home to Coral Springs. "Man-oh-man!" he exclaims later, shaking his head in disbelief at the suggestion that he might be conspiring with the powers that be to bring down Walters, or any other black leader. "This business."

For all his explosive rhetoric, Clayborne insists his newspaper is a business venture, first and foremost. The Times supports his wife and four children, he explains, and ensures his comfortable future. Through his financial success, he hopes to prove a larger point: that blacks should quit blaming whites for some problems and fight harder for economic autonomy. "We have to look at our own self-interest," he insists, "not look at things as just black-and-white."

Clayborne has never been shy about advancing his own self-interest. In August he announced a deal with the Sun-Sentinel that allows him to share advertising, some news, and printing with the paper -- the South Florida outpost of the massive, Chicago-based Tribune Company. His new partner announced the deal August 9 with little fanfare but neglected to detail further plans. Now, Clayborne says, he has been quietly negotiating to sell The Broward Times outright to the Sun-Sentinel. He adds that the sale could happen before May.

Both his current deal and gestating plan mark a sharp departure from his stance only four years ago. Then Clayborne's headlines derided the Sun-Sentinel as a bunch of "White Boys" and "Greedy Bandits" when the newspaper's planners considered publishing their own black-oriented weekly. Is Clayborne a hypocrite for even considering a sellout to that same media giant?

"Of course not," he scoffs. "First of all let me repeat what I've always said: This is a business. And secondly, I'm undecided. I wouldn't sell unless I could be sure the paper would keep its black editorial voice."

Clayborne and his wife ran the first issue of The Broward Times off a copy machine in 1990, but his business ambition was born 25 years earlier. At the time Clayborne was one of three children living in the black section of Des Moines, Iowa. His mother ran the household by herself while employed cleaning rooms in a local hotel, sometimes enlisting the aid of her children, who would scrub the hard-to-reach spots on porcelain bowls with a toothbrush. "We were not allowed, not ever allowed to mess around," he recalls with a smile. "If we did, she'd go out in the yard and get a branch off the mulberry tree, and wet it. Then she'd whip us."

At 14 years of age, Clayborne entered a 1960s-era Great Society program called Upward Bound, designed to help poor kids. In that program, Clayborne recalls, he traveled by bus to Minneapolis, where he stayed in a hotel for the first time and saw a play at the Guthrie Theater.

"I was stunned," he says, "stunned and amazed at the bigger world. These adults, both white and black, sat around, and they were actually interested in us, in what we said, and they were nice. And they all had business cards. I decided right there that I would do whatever it took to be able to get that life, to stay in hotels and see plays and have business cards."

What it took was studying and staying out of trouble, which he did... almost. "I got in a lot of fights," he admits. "I used to think I had to challenge anybody who looked at me wrong."

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Roger Williams