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The role of the Black Press in America

Kelly Fazilleau

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Conférence du 17 février 2011 à l'Université de Poitiers donné par Joel F. Maybury, Consul des Etats-Unis d'Amérique à Bordeaux

1 Joel F. Maybury, consul for the United-States of America in Bordeaux, gave several papers on the Black Press during the month of Febuary 2011 – Black history month. Mr. Maybury has spent the past years researching the role of the Black Press in America. He is a former journalist of the American Black Press, having worked for over seven years for various papers, such as the Alameda Newspaper Group, the Sacramento Observer, the Twin Cities Courier.

2 The paper started with a brief explanation of Black history month. Carter G. Woodson was an African-American writer, historian and journalist. He was one of the first scholars to study African American History, and is actually seen as the father of Black History. Woodson noted that, at the beginning of the 20th century, American History overlooked the contribution of African Americans. Race prejudice was a tradition. In 1926, Woodson organised the celebration of “Negro History Week” during the second week of February – Abraham Lincoln's birthday. Woodson took the first steps to promote the contribution of African-Americans in History. The celebration week later turned into a month and was renamed Black Historical month in 1976. In the 1960s, as progressive whites endorsed efforts to celebrate Black Americans, the Civil Rights Movement did more to promote the contribution of Black Americans. By the 1970s the entire nation recognised the role African-Americans played in American history.

3 In 1827, the first African-American publication – Freedom's Journal – was created in New York city, four decades before the Civil War. It had a weekly circulation of about 50 000. Most Black newspapers were family owned, this caused many of them to close rapidly, when families did not have enough money to keep them going. In the 1820s Blacks talked and exchanged news through Church. At that time there were no voices for Blacks in publications. White publications denigrated Blacks. The first two white publishers of the Freedom's Journal were part of the antislavery movement. "We wish to plead our own cause. Too long have others spoken for us." was the motto of the Journal. The Freedom's Journal offered international and national information on current events concerning the Black population, denouncing slavery, lynching and other injustices. The journal contained biographies of important African-Americans. It was also the first journal to list Black weddings, births and deaths. Vernon Jared, an African-American journalist, explained “We didn’t exist in the other papers[...] We were never born, we didn’t get married, we didn’t die, we didn’t fight in any wars, and we never participated in anything scientific. We were truly invisible unless we committed a crime”.

4 During the Civil War, the first Black daily newspaper was created – the New Orleans Tribute. The first to be published in the South was the Union. It was published in French and English. Later Doctor Roudanez bought it and renamed it La Tribune de la Nouvelle Orléans. This journal gave voice to the Black American community. It fought for the abolishment of slavery and the same rights for all. It helped Blacks to form political groups.

5 After the 1830s, about 24 Black newspapers were created. The North Star was the most influential, it was read by the President and members of Congress. After 1865, the number of newspapers grew because of emancipation. But most African-Americans could not read. Education became a key to equality. These newspapers were a sign of their freedom. They were now allowed to express themselves or open a business. After the Civil War, the Black press dedicated itself to rebuilding Black communities and Black political movements. After President Haze removed protection for African-Americans in 1876, 3 000 African men were murdered by white mobs before 1918. The White press did not condemn these crimes. But the Black press reported every incident to warn the Black communities.

6 Before the Civil War, the Black press advocated antislavery. After the War, it advocated emancipation, and contributed to rebuilding Black communities. And then, it worked hard to warn African-Americans of danger.

7 At the beginning of the 20th century, as technology evolved, the Black population started moving North and West, to California. It brought disruptive changes to the white way of life and a violent white reaction. Tensions also rose in Chicago as race riots developed. The Black press of the time talked about racial segregation and mass movement to the West. By that time, the newspapers were easier to distribute.

8 The First World War military drafts took many American men. The South encountered many economic problems. Southern businesses tried to ban the sale of Black newspapers to prevent lacks from leaving – the influence of these newspapers was great. After the war, about 500 Black newspapers existed – they carried information about which shops to avoid, where segregation took place.

9 During the Second World War, there were many American soldiers in France. Black and White were separated in the units. This kind of segregation was denounced in newspapers, it made the Blacks unhappy. This was bad for the war effort and was noticed by the government and army. The influence of the Black newspapers was growing, but if their voice was too strong, the advertisers removed their adds. It was a delicate balance.

10 In the 1950s, Black newspapers were often accused of being communist for supporting decolonisation in Africa. They were easy targets for attacks from Congress.

11 In the 1960s, mainstream newspapers started recruiting Black journalists. More Black readers turned to white publications because of the presence of Black writers. This caused a decrease in the number of Black newspapers. Today, there are about 200 Black newspapers, with a circulation of 15 million.

12 Black magazines and journals are still an important part of the African-American community. The Black press today still needs to advocate the Black voice.

13 As a former journalist working for Black newspapers, Joel F. Maybury, knows the purpose and use of these publications. He showed in detail the aims of the Black Press throughout the years, since they were first created at the beginning of the 19th century. Scientific work on the subject is still rare, especially by white writers. The new President, Barak Obama, may have brought into focus the role played by African-Americans in America, but very few prominent Black people were famous before the 1950s. The role played by Blacks in American History is still undervalued. Joel F. Maybury works to inform people of this situation and in so doing hopes to change the “dominant” view of history.

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Kelly Fazilleau, « The role of the Black Press in America », Mémoire(s), identité(s), marginalité(s) dans le monde occidental contemporain [En ligne], Année 2011, mis en ligne le 03 juillet 2012, consulté le 07 mars 2021. URL :

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Mémoire(s), identité(s), marginalité(s) dans le monde occidental contemporain – Cahiers du MIMMOC est mis à disposition selon les termes de la licence Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International.

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