Home The Afronet on Day Zero

The Afronet on Day Zero

The Afronet started running at 1200 baud. 

(c) 1999, William Murrell PCBoard BBS

1980   1988  1990  1992  1993  1994    1995  1996    1997   1998     1999

The origin of the AfroNet

Arthur McGee compiles and emails out a directory of locations online built for and by black people. This is pre-BlackTwitter. His e-mailed sheet listed dial-up modem phone numbers to local BBS systems owned by Blacks and it listed the on-ramp addresses of all the Historically-Black-Colleges and Universities online. The list was updated weekly. More new sites were added than were being disconnected. The document assembled the first network of interconnected system operators (sysops) in the Black Online Diaspora. If they were really good at it, they took on the name of Wizop.

Uses connected to sites from a college network connection or via dial-up modems at work or home. The Internet as we know it today did not exist, but the FIDO protocol BBS ( Bulletin Board Systems ) did. The first internet access was given to academic and government researchers. Consumers had no access to it.

There was no Google. No Yahoo. No MSN. No Facebook. Software apps named Gopher, TELNET, FTP and various client dial-up applications were provided whenever you purchased a modem. This software made connections to the remote servers. When you set your Hayes or US Robotics modem to dial and connect you would tell it the connection Baud rate, Parity bit settings, and the dial-in phone number. The modem software usually came with a long list of dial-up locations for support and pleasure.

Eventually, the AOLs, Prodigys, NetZeros and the like became the de facto path to online content. Of course, you must have seen one of these free AOL CD-ROM jackets laying around somewhere in America. Before that, a group of Historically Black Colleges built the Minority Online Information Service also known as MOLIS. Once you made a connection into a MOLIS gateway there would be other sites, universities and government resources you could access.

Black tech to Black sysop

At the age of 21, Benjamin Banneker born 1721, a self-taught Black Mathematician, Engineer. and Astronomer, made the first American Clock which kept accurate time until his death.

Years later CompuServe, Prodigy, GEnie, and America Online witnessed Black Americans buzzing in Chat Rooms. The telecommunications and marketing industry began to invest in that buzz during the 90s. There was money to be made. The frequent users of these online networks were spending more than per month than you are paying today for your deluxe cable TV service.

The 80s – The first Ph.D. in Computer Science was awarded to an African American during the late 1970s. Clarence “Skip” Ellis was the first African-American to earn a Ph.D. in Computer Science and it was awarded in 1969.

Black computer geeks were recreating the Black Diaspora online. Word spills over into the online newsgroups. List servers are activated. Electronic mail messaging helped get the word out. Some sites were available by invitation only – snob appeal set in early! In the ’70s before America Online, The Source became CompuServe and our sources suggest there was an African American involved in that acquisition.

1980s through 1999
the formulative years
with AFRONET BBS network features

AFRONET (1980-1995) was a Fido-style network of AA owned free and not so free BBS dial-up host networks linked the snobbishly driven college Black Diaspora with the masses.

Afronet Sysops were Black self-trained COMPUTING GEEKS during the late 80’s and before-the-Internet 90s and not many of them had formal computer training. Women Sysops were extremely important. They set and affected policy and were instrumental in evolving the AFRONET. Mrs. Idette Vaughan contributed so much. She is a smart businesswoman with a passion for Black culture. Her spirit hovered over AFRONET like a glove meant to fit.

This indie AfroNet network propagated across the United States. Arthur McGee’s Black Online Directory hotlinks and his energy in keeping them straight was THE FIRST open-source list of Black Online User Communities at the time and he knew every SYSOP operator. (almost) ONLINE CHAT among the units was so hot and easy.

The software was the glue, CHAT was K-I-N-G. AFRONETTERS were the original BLACK TEXT MESSENGERS! Few were country farmers. The Post-answer-post Opinionated Method was commonplace. Strong Personalities CLASHED! —(SYSOPS) operating AFRONET systems had so much work to do daily–we were steep in a tradition of merged careers as cultural choice and community service replaced flicker. Afronetters felt High LIfe inside. Many did it for fun, hobby and entrepreneurship! I know I did it late at night after everyone was asleep. That was probably the case across all of AfroNet. Kids slept while Sysops clicked and stayed up till the sun rose.

AFRONET SYSOPS localized their units to suit neighborhoods they lived in. Some begin to charge fees for an account on their boards. Most WERE FREE. There were enough sites to connect EVERYONE via a dial-up modem during these times– West Coast AfroNet Sysops banged against East Coast Afronet sysops (links between EAST AND WEST that brought respective communities together, could be cut off so easily at a whim). I did not see this happen but sure there were technical issues that felt that way. Few Unix hosts are in the NETWORK. Sanyakhu Amare Sheps joins from Brooklyn New York with Unix service. Mr. Sheps is operating a scaleable Unix based ISP network system with servers located in Washington, DC. Mr. Sheps goes on the road to seek investments for building -A- first Black-owned ISP service known. He suggested a $15,000 min cash invest for equity. In 1993, AfroNet sysops met with producers of American Vision’s soon to be GO Afro forum on CompuServe to discuss partnerships. This historic Washington D.C meeting produced positive results and the usual question marks when 15 people meet together to make a new thang.

AfroLink, Inc.  Software Product Announcement

First Black Software company to have public acclaim.  Creates a new term for African American Software.
I spoke to him, Steve and others about the term “Blackware.” Yes. Black Enterprise profiles Kamal Al Mansour, President
It looks like a million-dollar opportunity.
source: Black Enterprise magazine g

89 – 1990 –
Innercity Software of Boston, a Black new media programming firm, releases “Gripcon” shareware! Rights to the product are sold to an Arizona firm after ICS gained notoriety in a popular Windows shareware BOOK.
The program added graphics to DOS icons on a Windows 3.1X desktop.
source: Innercity Software

A  CompuServe keyword search for the term “Afro.” Found nothing.
Used “African American.”  Found a reference to Grolier’s Encyclopedia. -Ha!-

Black Computer Survival Guide Book published and distributed
source: Black Innk Research, CA. Author: student Eno Essien.

April 1992
An AfroNet BBS fido-link advertises in Boston Bay State Banner free dialup
Boston hop by sysop William Murrell launches the SpiritDatatreetm  
BBS “Blackware” public “online discussion forum on The Afronet.

later on that yeat, Murrell demos a BBS CPU and a software-automated phone call attendant at the Black Community Information Center, of Blue Hill Avenue. Meeting attended by Ernest Coston, the Honorable Mel King, Sadiki Kambon, Ken Granderson and possibly Jemadara Kamari.

Summer 1992
GEnie Online service adds African-American Minority Business Roundtable hosted by William Murrell to their Home Office Small Business online Forum. It is being managed by Janet Atard who arranged sponsorship with the Air Force and the Commerce Business Daily bid record publication.

Summer 1992
BYTE Magazine Writer Jerry Pournelle
publishes a favorable review of African American History CD-ROM
source: Byte Magazine

The AfroNet Fido network receives news that Jesse Jackson and the Rainbow Coalition are planning to go onto Internet.

Murrell’s AfroNet connected Boston Bulletin Board System (BBS) running the PC BOARD host software using host brand name SpiritDatatree, launches the first “BLACKWARE” online forum chat channel ( Twitter-like but pre-Twitter ) and distributes it across the Afronet Fidonet system of hosts connected to each other in cities on the East and West Coast.

The AfroNet breaks news and first-person account reports of racism at the AT&T corporation (the monkey story).
Hundreds of news bytes are being posted by users to their nearest Afronet host BBS favorite channel on a daily basis.

Microsoft Corp uses Pearl Harbor’s December anniversary month to declare WAR on Netscape’s web browser.

1993 June
Roxbury Community College host an Information Highway event for communities of color. Features speaker Alan November, a high school teacher and consultant from Glenview, Ill. He says the Information Highway will make some richer than ever and others poorer. Juanita Wade, President of Freedom House says they are broadening the base of knowledge of computer technology. Chuck Turner, Director of Greater Roxbury Neighborhood Association, explains that CAIN ( The Community Action Information Network), under development, could tie together all community organizations to access and share vital information about their neighborhoods.
source Bay State Banner

November 1993
Hispanic Office of Planning and Evaluation (HOPE) receives the award from National Council of La Raza.

James Jennings, UMASS director of
Trotter Institute of UMASS/Boston advises Latinos to be the first to roll onto the Information Superhighway, by saying “Your economy is determined by strategies based on community assets and resources.” source: Bay State Banner

becomes first Black premier online hosting service and shopping plaza
various sources

February 1994
Summit: African Americans in the Telecommunications Age – Washington DC, Capitol Hill
Invitation to form brain-trust, to propel a talented tenth, to create a modern-day Niagra Movement, to ensure that all Black Americans are fully participating in the Telecommunications Age dubbed “The Age of Light” Sponsored by American Visions magazine,co-sponsored by Congressional Black Caucus Foundation

March 1994
The Newspaper  warns African Americans to get aboard the online communications Highway”If Blacks don’t take the blinks off, our eyes and get on board now, we will once again be on the outside looking in, begging for jobs that should have been ours to give,” writes William Reed
Oakland Post

1994 March
White House Report: Blacks and the Super Highway
Superhighway defined – a fusion of cable, telephone and computer technology. The Center for Media Education wants to get in writing how many channels  Blacks could own. In testimony from George Dobbins, owner of Southern Communications in Memphis, Tennesse told the gathering about a series of meetings he had with federal officials and communications company representatives. He declared his firm is being cut out of the gold mine the White House has named, the Information Superhighway. Wade Henderson, NAACP Legislative Director said African Americans can participate by using collective whatever resources we have.
Source: Washington Informer

May 6th, 1994
CompuServe Opens an Afro-American Culture and Arts Online Forum titled GO AFRO for those that appreciate Afro-American art and culture. The CompuServe online service peaked at 3.2 million users and was eventually acquired by America Online (AOL.) This writer directed the GO AFRO CompuServe forum for American Vision magazine, the forum owner and the official magazine of the African American Museums Association. The forum co-produced and released an online AfroCentric digital “Museum Without Walls” to CompuServe members. It was featured on the digital Compuserve masthead and within the monthly CompuServe print magazine, the service mailed through the post office to millions of their subscribers.

August 1994
10 Black Media companies bid for wireless network
FCC PCS (personal communications services frequency licenses), forming Urban Communications PCS Limited Partnership. Members include Essence Communications, Inner City Broadcasting Corp., Burrell Communications, Granite Broadcasting Corp., UniWorld Inc., and Motown Record Co. 5,628 PCS licenses will be auctioned off.
source Black Enterprise

August 1994
Article: “Quotas Invade Cyberspace.”
In affirmative action rules drafted by the FCC to provide the sale of licenses to women, Blacks, Hispanics, Asians and non-whites, The Jewish Advocate raises questions about the issue of whether quotas and set-asides for women and non-whites should play a role in the complexity of buying frequencies for telecommunications use in the expansion of cyberspace. source: The Jewish Advocate

October 1994
National Association of Black Journalists receives a $100,000 grant from the Freedom Forum to provide a series on the Information Highway. source:NABJ Journal

November 1994
Emerge magazine
warns of African Americans’ risk of becoming “RoadKill” on the emerging Information Highway and urges black companies to form partnerships to invest and merge resources to acquire major information superhighway infrastructure control. A coalition of groups including Center for Media Education, the NAACP, the Office of Communications of the United Church of Christ, and the Consumer Federation of America and the Council of La Raza accuse the nation’s telephone companies of “electronic redlining.”
source:Emerge magzine.

November 1994
FCC Chairman speaks on Information Superhighway Citing MLK’s “I have a dream speech,” the chairman says it has taken longer then we hoped. Speech ensures audience that commission will step up it’s level of enforcement of it’s Equal Employment Opportunity rules and will promote ownership and management opportunities by minorities and women in the communications field. Reports there are 1700 electronic computing equipment manufacturers of which ONE is Black-owned, 490 minority-owned telecommunications firms of a total of 98,000 and of the 10,000 commercial broadcast radio and television stations, only 300 are minority controlled, reflecting 20 of 1000 television licenses.
source:NABJ Journal

?? 1994
Galerie 500 releases “Art in the Dark” screen saver ethnic software, a fine art screen saver features actor Billy Dee Williams artwork, Boston’s Paul Goodnight artwork, the work of Romare Bearden, and others. The product gains distribution foothold with national retailer CompuUSA.
source: I may have gotten this program from Paul Goodnight, possibly. He had his own screen saver and offered it pro bono to the public thru Blacksoftware.com and his distribution channels. It was very nice.

?? 1994
Boston’s Black Information Center BCIC forms
Information Highway Taskforce and opens up BBS network
source:Sadiki Kamboon

January 1995
Jamaica joins Information Highway with InfoChannel.
source: The Weekly Journal

1995 January
Arthur Murray Schomburg Center Museum  in New York City
Symposium and Interactive Media Conference event, announces plans to enter cyberspace
Exhibits Encyclopedia Africana Project offered by Henry Louis Gates who
announces new investments from Quincy Jones, a music producer, and entrepreneur
source: InnerCity Software, Inc.

February 1995
Innercity Software publishes Black History CD ROM
titled “African-Americans in Boston:350 Years”, adapted from
book authored by Robert C. Hayden and authorized by the
Boston Public Library. Promoted with the aid of Boston Red
Sox slugger Mo Vaughan, local media outlets and and Shawmut Bank
source: Innercity Software

1995 February
LationoNet, the first non-profit, on-line forum for minorities, sign up 1,300 subscribers
on the first day. LatinoNet becomes the first American Online forum to charge for membership.
$60/yr individuals, $80 for non-profits, $1200 for institutions. A San Francisco based
the organization, LationoNet took 3 years from concept to live launch. A free public version
is planned that will feature a Latino newspaper and news service similar to Associated Press.
Source: EEO Bimonthly, Equal Opportunity Employment Career Journal

March 1995
CompuServe plans to feature GO AFRO forum in CompuServe magazine story.
Forum message posting # 68,264 is reached. The international CompuServe magazine was published once a month and distributed to millions of readers.
source:CompuServe Editors

April 1995
 The NAACP Crisis Magazine prints their first article on Information Superhighway

1995 – Nation of Islam Web site crashes after announcing  Million Man March
source: WebMaster

1995 (unconfirmed dates)
Herbie Hancock opens Computer Learning Lab for urban kids
Arsenio Hall builds neighborhood computer centers in Ghetto
Sinbad promotes computer literacy among Blacks in neighborhoods
source: The Conduit Newsletter

June 1995
Essence magazine and AT&T sponsors demonstrations of online
services for members of the Coalition of 100 Black Women and 100 Black Men
source:Michigan Chronicle

June 1995
Netnoir goes live on AOL,
AOL invests $500,000 into Netnoir.
Charlene Hunter-Gault open with an
interview with HaitianPresident-elect,
and offers message boards, SuccessGuide Online and directories of
African American professionals.  Chat cubicles create “stickiness.” Blacks
defect from other online services when AOL drops prices to flat rate access.
sources:various, i.e. The Network Journal

August 1995
Mumia Abu Jamal and Voyager Company demos on American Online
Interactive CD ROM titled: First Person: Mumia Abu-Jamal–Live From Death Row
which includes 150 essays written by Jamal and FBI files.
source:Michigan Chronicle

August 1995
Tony Brown Brings Cyberspace Resources to Black Businesses
Brown began a call-in radio program on WLIB radio to introduce listeners to the concept
of “The Cyberspace Club”, a feature he plans to link on his new online service.
He says “the response from listeners was unreal.” Tony Brown’s website plans to go live
in October, 1995.

1995 December
Emerge magazine and Black Entertainment Television begin talks with Microsoft
about the possible online ventures. BET also in talks with NETNOIR about possible online venture
source:Black Enterprise magazine

?? 1995
   USA Today’s Barbara Reynolds about Blacks Online
   Says they are ” The Black Intelligensia”
source:USA TODAY newspaper

?? 1995   Innercity Software, Inc.
 Black Boston multimedia developer
 Launches with Roxbury.com, Mattapan.com, Dorchester.com

January 1996
African American owned Trade and Post, TNPdotCOM, develops first
affordable African American Internet Provider service in New York City
offering chat rooms, business and social forums, information files, E-mail and
unlimited access for $15 per month.
source:The Network Journal

1996– CompuServe GO AFRO FORUM  Message number 100,000 reached

In 1996 Black Enterprise magazine gets its website ready to launch.

Ebony magazine runs spread on the Information Highway
but makes no news about going online.

Vibe magazine is online and part of Time’s pathfinder sites.
Microsoft forms joint-venture with Black Entertainment Television
source: Microsoft News release

Black Enterprise magazine forms Information Technology Advisory
Board to mirror board of Economic Advisors and report findings in features article.
NetNoir founders and Michelle Cooper of MediaSphere participate.
source: Black Enterprise magazine

1996 AT&T Forums Ethnic Business Division in Boston
Seeks new initiatives to promote it’s telecommunications services
in Ethnic neighborhoods.  Partners with Ted Terry of LA, on PoliceNet.com,
partners with Afro-American Newspaper organization in Baltimore.

August  1996
Million Woman March debuts web site

October 1996
The book the “African American Resouce Guide to the Internet” authored by
Rey O.Harris and Stafford L. Battle is reviewed in The Network Journal

October 1996
Compuserve surveys the Black GO Afro forum channel membership.
13,000 members have joined the GO AFRO forum of 2,569,295 general CompuServe members. Member statistics of GO AFRO section finds it 77% male, 18% female,
78% of all users have no children, 14% have one child, 75% used DOS-compatible computers, 38% connected from business addresses, 20% are aged 40-49, 15% aged 30-39, 3% aged 20-29, 23% have incomes over $50,000, 20% have incomes between $35K and $50,000, 13% have incomes of from $25,000 to $35,000.
source: Compuserve World Headquarters

December 23, 1996
Artist Paul Goodnight launches Web site
Color Circle Arts Publishing, Inc.  Fine Arts publisher of Afro-American Art
Goes online

May 1997
NAACP to Digitize Black history documents
Bell Atlantic provides a contribution of $100,000, at a ceremony attended by
NAACP President Kweisi Mfume who provides a plan to digitize hundreds of
historically significant documents and photographs about African American history which
will be made available to millions of students, teachers, librarians, archivists, professors,
scholars, writers, and journalists who can find the files on the NAACP Internet home page.
source: The Philadephia Tribune

December 1997
4 Million Page Views Per Year on Black Voices| (AOL and WEB) combined
    2 million on average for AOL  2 million on average for blackvoices.com
    80,000 page views represented the New England States
    25-54 years of age and mostly male
    $45-70,000 in annual income per average visitor of Black Voices
source:MarketPlace Producer

Boston Blacks Online List Server begins
BlackFacts.com goes online

1997 Black List of Top 45 Internet Sites
starts to appear in various newsgroups.

January 1998
Northwest Territories says Surf’s Up on Electronic Information
$100,000 has been invested by ARDICOM, a consortium of northern businesses
to help connect 3.4 million square kilometers to the World Wide Webby bringing
59 NWT communities to the Internet cloud in 600 days..
The Northwestern Territories are populated by Aboriginal communities.
source: Cultural Survival Quarterly

February 1998
The Black World Today Internet Web Site Newsletter
Introduces new web design
Announces plan to launch Sankofa University in Spring ’98
Contributes a dollar for every shopping mall purchase to rebuild black churches who burned
Partners with Qradio.net, a website owned by music producer Quincy Jones
Featured by CNN and Microsoft during ’98 Black History Month
Featured by Black Enterprise Magazine during the month of March ’98
source: Editors@tbwt-ny.com


Sometime in 1998 or 1999 BlackVoices Web site receives financial backing from Tribune in Chicago.

January 18, 1999
Encarta Africana CD-ROM Black World Encylopedia debuts,
Co-Producer – Henry Louis Gates,  AfroPedia, LLC., Microsoft Corp..
Chairman African American Institute for the Study of Life, Harvard University
source: Boston Globe

February 1999 CompuServe Interactive Services
Features “Women in History” segment in March ’99 featuring Marian Anderson
source: Editors News

April 1999 – SYMANTEC (do you use “Norton’s Anti-Virus”) names former IBM executive John W. Thompson, an African American, to CEO role. Symantec purchased the digitalPlumbers war tested “Norton Utilities” software suite from Peter Norton years before. Mr. Norton and his African American wife were profiled in a magazine article while living on Martha’s Vineyard. Another African American from American Express Travel Services was named to head up biztravel.com. These new Black CEOs of Information Technology-driven companies had been established leaders in E-Business systems methodology and marketing for years.
source: Wall Street Journal April 1999, and others.

April 1999
PRODIGY  Interactive starts exclusive Hispanic Online service. America Online to follow late 1999.
source: Wall Street Journal

May 1999
CompuServe’s GO AFRO online forum closes.
CompuServe was the last major online portal to embrace the openness of the Internet. CompuServe Interactive Services and AOL partner to later announce FREE computer deals for new subscribers who last 36 months with the general service. CompuServe adds new African American content sponsor to the list of hundreds of forums on CompuServe.

May 1999. On NASDAQ – STAR MEDIA, a Latin American ISP
(stock symbol “STRM,” raises $105 million)
gaining a market capitalization of $797 million after the IPO. Shares offered at $13-$15, rise 300% in a day, beating badly the lackluster Barnes & Noble.com IPO which occurred on the same day. Source: Wall Street Journal

June 1999
Blackcyberspace.com receives a $750,000 equity investment from Black-owned information technology firm and announces plans to open during the fall of 1999.
source: Black Enterprise magazine

July 1999 – Commerce Department’s Larry Irving issues report on the State of the Digital Divide.
Stated problem: If household income is less than $35,000 per year and you are black, then probably you are NICWB (not internet-connected while black). The tone of his voice in the report indicated that NICWBs were facing serious obstacles to full participation in the Digital Economy as long as they were without computers at home.
Meanwhile ….

AUGUST 1999 – Advertisers are going gaga over their ability to reach the “upper crust” of the Black Digerati, by buying banner space with NetNoir, Black Voices and other Black marquee web sites. But, in the USA Today article, the writer warned on 8/6/99, that the real money to be made on minorities in cyberspace is by going after the Spanish speaking market.

August 1999 – BET HOLDINGS – Going for Black Internet GOLD
BET Holdings aka, (Black Entertainment Television), may spend $35 million going after Black Internet users in November with BET.COM. They are hoping to increase the number of African Americans online. Pundits are saying 34% of all African Americans are online today. Of these 10 million African Americans online, MSBET.COM, the existing web portal, has registered slightly over 1.3 million users and receives an average of 4.5 million page views per month according to their media kit. “BET is going to open up and be that real-estate space for a lot of African-American entrepreneurs, a lot of African-American messages and information,” Black Entertainment Television’s chairman Robert Johnson said at a Manhattan news conference. Financial backing is expected to be provided by Microsoft, AT&T, and News Corp.
Source: Wired News and MSBET.COM

Black E-Business Development, the Big Inventions!

Dr. Mark Dean was an African American IBM Research Fellow.

He invented IBM PC architecture parts and worked on the IBM XT personal computer.

Dr. Phillip Emeagwali from MIT invented parallel processing which increased data center computing power exponentially.

1980-’91 – The African American community paid by the hour for modem dial-up rates the minute there was something to do online. The public internet hit Cambridge in 1995 via a Sun Microsystems / Continental Cablevision connection. Nina Arimah of Art is Life Itself worked there. She gave me access to it via floppy disks from her office. At the time, I owned a Cambridge computer store and was a personal digitalPlumber to many in the community. She said Sun rolled a big metal box onto the Continental Cable grid and that box was an internet head end.

I think AfroNetters were the first community STEM crew working the grassroots on a wide scale to bring other minorities up to speed. They were Firefighters, academics, legal clerks and they held down all sorts of jobs in the daytime. Then they held people’s hands on the side, helping them make computers work.

PRODIGY and NETZERO were goto portals online. I reckon they got most of the black money for online communications before EarthLink and AOL came along to smash them.

2019 – In response to lack of diversity at leading firms Facebook, Google, etc..
Read Greed Trumps Race: How to be a successful African American in Silicon Valley.