Of the 44 newsmen and women who met in Washington in 1975 to birth the National Association of Black Journalists, five have held prominent positions in Philadelphia newspapers.

And in the following three decades since the NABJ's founding, as newspapers have made fitful progress towards racial parity, a succession of reporters and editors from The Inquirer have helped lead the organization.

NABJ began as an advocacy group, providing moral and professional support for its members and helping black reporters get jobs in the white mainstream media.

"We knew we had to be the best," founding NABJ president and former Philadelphia Daily News columnist Chuck Stone wrote in NABJ's account of its history. "We couldn't even afford mediocrity, because we were under a microscope."

The group had no inkling that it would become so influential, serving as a watchdog of civil rights issues both within news organizations and in society at large.

"If I had said in 1975 ... that I thought NABJ would have the impact and import it has today, I'd be lying," said Acel Moore in a 2000 interview. Moore, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for The Inquirer who now serves as editor emeritus, said, "There was a feeling among some people that signing their name on the list [to form NABJ] was a risk, that there would be a retaliation for doing that."

As membership grew (there are now 3,300 members), so did the group's prominence. Leaders had to decide whether to maintain journalistic neutrality on volatile issues - should NABJ throw its weight behind political candidates? Should it take a stand on public policies?

One of its thorniest challenges came in 1995, when the group found itself under pressure to use its influence to win a new trial for Mumia Abu-Jamal. The former radio reporter, convicted of killing a police officer, had served as president of NABJ's Philadelphia chapter in the early 1980s.

After prolonged and emotional debate, the group resolved that to preserve its professional objectivity, it would abstain.

Today, the organization sponsors workshops and provides grants as it continues to remind news organizations of their obligation to create a staff that fully represents the population.

"The formation of the black journalists' organization was clearly needed," Moore said in an interview with NABJ Journal several years ago. "In 1975, we knew this was not a sprint. This was a marathon. ... There is still a major role to be played by the association."