History of African-American Newspapers

African-American newspapers came into existence before the Civil War as a medium of expression of abolitionist sentiment.  In 1827, Samuel Cornish and John B. Russwarm started the first African-American periodical, called Freedom's Journal .  Freedom's Journal initiated the trend of African-American papers throughout the United States to fight for liberation and rights, demonstrate racial pride, and inform readers of events affecting the African-American community. Unfortunately, due to small readership,the paper ended its circulation in 1830.  Another African American newspaper, the North Star, founded by Frederick Douglass,  suffered the same fate as Freedom's Journal .

As African-Americans migrated from fields to urban centers, virtually every large city with a significant African-American population soon had African-American newspapers.  Examples were the Chicago Defender, Detroit Tribune, the Pittsburgh Courier, and the (New York) Amsterdam News.  While it was certainly important for African-American newspapers to report the news of the day, it was not their primary purpose.  Most cities already had daily newspapers that were aimed to the general public.  The idea of an African-American newspaper was to give African-Americans the news through the lens of their own eyes.

From an economic perspective, African-American newspapers were formed in order to make a profit.  According to a study of early African-American newspapers, the "primary motivation" of African-American newspaper proprietors was "not uplift, but profit."  In addition, from a social standpoint, these newspapers were a source of pride for the African-American community and a focal point for African-Americans to stick together and fight the constant oppression they were under.  Taking this into account, it seems apparent that it was most beneficial for African-American newspaper editors to be motivated by both uplift and profit.

In the United States today, it is not uncommon for cities to have a variety of newspapers (printed in a variety of languages) that are aimed at specific racial, ethnic, and religious groups.  Because large newspapers tend to cover the news that would be of interest to the majority (and thus not the minority) of people, it is easy to see why people of diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds would be interested in hearing about events from people who might see the world with the same cultural lens as themselves.

Other Resources . . .

"African American Newspapers Helped Colonize Kansas"
African American Press:  Black Studies Library--Ohio State University
The Chicago Defender
African American Newspapers
The Virgininia Newspaper Project
"Born in the Wake of Freedom":  John Mitchell, Jr., and the Richmond Planet

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