African-American newspapers were among the strongest institutions in black America for more than 150 years. They helped create and stabilize communities; they spoke forcefully for the political and economic interests of their readers while employing thousands; and they gave voice to the voiceless.
Too Long Have Others Spoken for Us (14:43)
Freedom’s Journal became the first newspaper in the United States to be published by African-Americans in 1827. The publication was short lived, but 24 other black papers were published before the Civil War and more than 500 that were published between the war and the turn of the century. Notable publications included Frederick Douglass’s "The North Star" and Ida B. Wells’ "Memphis Free Speech."
Standing Up for the Race (26:06)
Influential black newspapers at the turn of the century included the California Eagle, which Charlotta Bass published for four decades, and the Chicago Defender, which Robert Abbott founded in 1905. Abbott used his paper to decry Jim Crow discrimination and mob violence, and he sent it into the South where it helped spark the Great Migration.
Separate World (16:13)
African-American newspapers guided their readers through a rigidly segregated world between the two world wars, providing information that was mundane but critical for black survival. Robert Vann’s Pittsburgh Courier was the most influential and widely circulated black newspaper of the era; it featured contributions from the likes of W.E.B. Dubois, Marcus Garvey and Zora Neal Hurston.
Enthusiasm for the war effort was tempered by the bitter reality of segregation for black Americans. A Pittsburgh Courier reader inspired the Double V campaign, promoting the idea of victory over the Axis powers followed by victory at home against discrimination. The military considered the black press an enemy, and FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover did all within his power to charge publishers with sedition.
Putting Itself Out of Business (12:49)
The events of the 1950s and 1960s would pose new challenges to black publishers; but ultimately for the black press, the Civil Rights Movement's success would bring the period of its greatest power to an end. In the 1960s, black newspaper circulations declined and the papers’ power and influence began to wane.
Credits: The Black Press: Soldiers without Swords (01:15)
Credits: The Black Press: Soldiers without Swords
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