Newspapers: A Revolutionary Beginning
In honor of black history month, it is with great honor that I speak on one of the greatest forms of early mass communication that the world has ever seen, the newspaper. Through the use of the newspaper in Black America, the world has been revolutionized; Bringing people together, breaking the cycle of ignorance (for those who choose to not be alliterate), and constructing a new way to keep citizens informed. Beginning with the Freedom’s Journal in 1827 and progressing to more modern news companies, such as CNN and The Washington Post, which have origins beginning with the foundations of the black men and women who started publishing news papers in the 19th century, a lot of progress can be seen within the black community in regards to literacy, education, and contributions to society. In addition, new innovations such as Twitter have impacted the world of African-Americans and allows those that fall into the spectrum of “colored people” to be universally connected through a network that is accessible within seconds. Starting off as a form of rebellion and a fight to break the cycle of oblivion and illiteracy, the Black newspaper created a chain reaction educated black men and women who would later go on to change the course of the world.
Making its debut on the 16th day of March, 1827, the same year slavery was abolished, Rev. Peter Williams, Jr., John Russwurm, Samuel Cornish, and other free black men in New York City came together for the cause of writing to, and for, their fellow Black Americans, and founded the very first black owned Newspaper. Thus, Freedom’s Journal was born. In the 1800s, when Freedom’s Journal came out to the public’s viewing, weekly papers were released every Friday and circulated in 11 states and a multiple countries outside of the United States. The Freedom’s Journal “provided international, national, and regional information [about] current events and contained editorials declaiming slavery, lynching, and other injustices. The Journal also published biographies of prominent African-Americans and listings of births, deaths, and marriages in the African-American New York community.” (wisconsinhistory.org) The birth of The Freedom’s Journal re-shaped black lives because although in certain states, laws “prohibited teaching slaves and free blacks” (Self-Taught, 13), black men and women proudly subscribed to the newspaper and taught themselves to read, even if it meant that they would receive lashings or punishment by law enforcement if caught. The importance of newspapers in the 1800s can easily be overlooked and underappreciated, but in actuality, composing newspapers was a form of rebellion and resistance, proving that no one can keep the black man ignorant. (Self-Taught, 11) Looking back in history, other than the abolition of slavery, African-Americans challenging the American political system and demanding equal opportunities (whether in school, the work force, restaurants, ect.) made the biggest difference in how African-Americans are perceived in history.
As someone from a generation of youth who has personally encountered minimal racism and discrimination, it is outrageous to think of how 400 years ago, and even 200 years ago when The Freedom’s Journal became published, there were still men and women in shackles, living their lives unwillingly as slaves. Freeman’s Journal, and other notable columnists who made developments in Black America significantly advanced our people because “Black papers became the primary means of group expression and main community service outlet, reporting on job opportunities and retailers that didn’t discriminate, and covering charity events in uplifting society pages with big pictures of smiling, dignified black people enjoying each other’s company.” (neimanreports.org) This type of unity can change and uplift the tired mentality of the Black men and women who, at one time, where complacent in their ignorance. The Freedom’s Journal was revolutionary in countering racist commentary printed in mainstream press and providing a safe haven for Black men and women who felt that the newspaper was the only place they could receive hope and support from.
Unfortunately, Freedom’s Journal stopped being published two short years after making its debut. Although the life of Freedom’s Journal was short lived, it succeeded in the goal of uniting African-Americans and promoting literacy, unity, and integration. The impact of Freedom’s Journal can be seen when looking at the other articles and publications, which were derived from the original groundbreaking Freedom’s Journal. Empowerment for the black population was especially advocated within the Freedom’s Journal and all other preceding black newspapers by promoting literacy and intellectual development (blackpast.org). Surprisingly, although America wanted to keep African-Americans in chains (physically and metaphorically), Black publishers grew to be some of the most rich and powerful figures in African American society of the time. In 1932 during the presidential election, “Robert L. Vann, Abbott and others steered black voters en masse to the Democratic Party, breaking the traditional ties to the Republican Party of Abraham Lincoln and helping to elect Franklin D. Roosevelt.” (niemanreports.org) This type of power within the black community upset White Americans, who once took delight in giving lashes and raping colored women. Slowly, through newspapers and Black individuals contributing to mass communication, Black America began to take back their rights and fought back to be seen just as intellectual equals.
For over 180 years after the Freedom’s Journal concluded their newspaper publications, Black newspapers did not have as much popularity as the Freedom’s Journal. Instead, African-Americans showcased their talents by contributing journalism, columnist, and cartoonist expertise to local news headquarters. Among the men and women who helped provide and pave the road by working for companies who network through mass communication, there are many big names in the particular field such as Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. DuBois, Langston Hughes, and Mary McLeod Bethune. (nnpa.org) Many powerful news companies however, did open such as, the Atlanta Daily World (1931-2003) who was the first Black daily news in the 20th century, The Baltimore Afro-American (1893-1988) who was the most widely circulated Black newspaper on the Atlantic coast, the Los Angeles Sentinel (1934-2005) who was the oldest and largest black newspaper in Western United States, and the Norfolk Journal and Guide (1921-2003) who was the only newspaper to provide on-the-scene, day-to-day coverage of the Scottsboro trial, and was one of the best researched and well written black newspapers of its time. (proquest.com) Each of these newspapers extended the lending hand in spreading news about black politics, arts, civil rights, and movements within black communities. The beauty about Black newspapers in the 20th century was the support offered and the boom of conversations about how to change and better the system in which oppressed, and still oppresses minorities all too frequently.
By the time the Black Power Era began, the medium of newspapers was severely challenged, and in a sense creating a divide between the Black and White, rather than unifying one another primarily because of the way White news forums would portray and skew the reality of each daily endeavor during horrific events, such as the many civil rights protests. The strides toward civil rights, however, attracted the best of the best journalists who would write articles to attract readers and get more citizens involved. The type of news that became published generally was able to reveal the scary reality minorities were forced to accept, and once more prompted men and women to take a stand to declare their power as a people in hopes to change the course of history that our founding fathers imposed on us.
In 1941, after seeing a lack of Black newspapers and outlets for African-Americans, the National Negro Publishers Association was founded in hopes to “harmonize [their] energies in a common purpose for the benefit of Negro journalism” (nnpa.org) and was host to 22 publications. In 1956, the association voted to rename the organization, the National Newspaper Publishers Associations. Today, the NNPA is comprised of over 200 Black Newspapers and totals of over 15 million readers. (niemanreports.org) By no means are White owned newspaper companies being degraded and unappreciated, but to a certain extent, America cannot keep allowing ourselves and our people to be brainwashed and taught about our people by a person who has never lived the struggles that minorities endure on a daily basis, in this nation founded on the premise of racism. Because of that fact, Black companies strive to advance our people, and find support from one another, rather than changing our ways and adapting to White culture to feel that our voices are finally being heard. Educating ourselves is the most important way of achieving this goal.
With the advancement of technology and a digital age, America, and many other countries have been able to promote black businesses, black news, and things that would be important to a person who is interested in the life of a minority. Because of where technology is right now, Internet is accessible to most individuals, and therefore just a few clicks and points away on cellphones, laptops, and other hand held devices. This being the case, it is evident that within black culture and any other American culture alike, everyone should theoretically be up to date with current events. Wrong.
Shockingly, when looking at statistics, studies show that only 28% of Black Americans read the newspaper. (journalism.org) The unsettling reality is that now because of the age of Twitter, where people of all ages have the ability to post and share experiences, photos, and videos instantly, African-Americans and youth of the current generation are unworried and content with where our culture stands. Instead of broadcasting opinions and stories through mass media, the youth has the tendency to only speak to his or her followers—and this is relevant when discussing any type of social media platform (i.e. Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook). Although talking about current happenings is beneficial to expending intellectual horizons, there are limited benefits when only a few people are made aware of the news, or when the youth have lost hope in reading the news or writing articles. Being brought to attention that social media is winning the hearts of people of all ages, one can say, “Yes, black papers are no longer the main media for many African-Americans. Yes, the number of black publications goes up and down depending on social and political circumstances. Nonetheless, the black press is no more dead than the white press.” (niemanreports.org) Although facts prove that there is a decline in Black press views, knowing the history and power of the newspaper, there is hope that the newspaper has not yet met its full potential and can come back and prove importance, even the youth.
In 2016, Black and White published newspapers are all in popular demand. The Wall Street Journal, New York Times, USA Today, Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, The Philadelphia Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, and many more other companies are holding down some of the highest ratings of all time for popularity, and even in this digital age, where many individuals have evidently shied away from the concept of being informed. News companies are still doing a phenomenal job of keeping the interest of Americans all alike and monitoring output to be sure that every individual is represented and accounted for. Although major progress has been made within the Black community since slave times, “In reality, racism remains a major obstacle in black progress in America today. Forty years after the March in Washington, Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dream is still unachieved—and the black press is still on the case.” (niemanreports.org) The best way to combat the negativity in the news is to see more Black faces in the news and have courage instilled in the youth so that as our people get older, we have new minds coming in and continuing to strengthen our image. Hope is in the hands of our educators and parents of this current generation. As a Black people, we are not done writing their history yet.
From past to present, it is indisputable that the newspaper has served as one of the most important, most fluid, most patriotic, and most valuable aspects in mass communications. Although the news has gone from paper to electronic, it is nonetheless, the newspaper, and a part of history to forever cherish and respect the history of. Beginning with Freedom’s Journal in 1827 and having many young men and women still writing for their lives and writing for the lives of the silent, telling stories through the news will never be outdated.
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