By: Phinis Jones
Since its birth, Black owned and operated newspapers, known as the Black press has served as a staple in the Black community. Rooted deeply in combating racism, fighting for justice and equality and promoting empowerment and excellence, the Black press is an essential part of our history and culture. Without it, our stories would remain untold.
Black newspapers were the dominant means of communication within our culture. These papers functioned not only as a tool to transfer Black news at a time when Whites fought hard to silence them, but it served as a guiding light, words of encouragement and inspiration and the main source of information across the nation. Important black newspapers such as the Chicago Defender, D.C. based Afro-American, New York City’s Amsterdam News and the Pittsburgh Courier served as
While newspapers published by abolitionist were in existence, Blacks believed that they were their greatest advocates. No one could truly testify to the hurt, pain, frustration, tiredness and other issues that plagued the Black community, but the ones who were actually going through it.
This year marks the 187th anniversary of the Black Press. It began in 1827 when John Russwurm and Samuel Cornish started Freedom’s Journal, a weekly four column publication printed every Friday in New York. Freedom’s Journal was filled with both foreign and domestic news, editorials, as well as obituaries for those in their commnity. “We wish to plead our own case,” wrote Cornish. Their goal was to provide a counter to the large amount of white newspapers of the time period which openly supported slavery and racial bias
Freedom’s Journal was not born for the sole purpose of defending African Americans, but as a desire to create a forum that would express their views and advocate for their causes and needs.
Although only in publication for a year, Freedom’s Journal paved a the way for the numerous papers that followed it and impacted the world through its reporting of national and international news. By the Civil War, 40 black newspapers were being published. And, during the 1920’s and 30’s, when major papers virtually ignored black America, the glory days of the black press began.
One of the most prominent voices in Black Press was that of Ida B. Wells- Barnett.
During a train ride from Memphis to Nashville, Wells, who purchased a first-class train ticket, became outraged after being told to move to the train car that was reserved for African Americans. After being forcibly removed, wells sued the railroad company, winning a $500 settlement in a circuit court cases, which was later overturned by the Supreme Court.
This injustice prompted Wells to write race and politics of the south. Under the alias Iola, she wrote a number of articles that were published in Black newspapers and periodicals across the county. Wells eventually became the owner of the Memphis Free Speech and Headlight, and later Free Speech.
Working as an editor, journalist and publisher, as well as maintaining her job as a teacher in the segregated schools of Memphis, Wells became a vocal critic of the conditions of the “negro schools,” which later led to her being fired.
She championed another cause after her friend and two of his business associates were killed.
In 1892, Tom Moss, Calvin McDowell and Will Stewart set up a grocery store in Memphis. The thriving business operated by three African- American men, drew customers away from a white-owned store in the neighborhood, causing the two groups to clash at times. On night, as the three men guarded the store against an attack, they ended up shooting several of the white vandals. Moss, McDowell and Stewart were arrested, brought to jail and then taken from their cells by a lynch mob. The lynch mob murdered the three men.
These brutal killings lead Wells to her write articles about the lynching of her friend and the wrongful deaths of other African Americans. Putting her own life at risk, she spent two months traveling in the South, gathering information on other lynching incidents. One specific editorial pushed Whites over the edge resulting in a mob storming her office and destroying all of her equipment. Fortunately, Wells had been traveling to New York City at the time. She was warned that she would be killed if she ever returned to Memphis.
Today, the role of the black press isn’t so easily defined. The needs of the community have stretched far beyond; however, there still needs to be separate outlets for individual groups of people. While the mainstream media has become more involved and inclusive of all races. There is still so much going on that a lot of people may have never heard of.