For 190 years, the global impact of the Black Press has been irrefutable; from fighting against colonialism to Africa to advocating for Black soldiers fighting in Europe during the world wars and shining a light on apartheid in South Africa, the Black-owned newspapers have always been a voice for the voiceless.
The rich and unvarnished history of the Black Press can be traced back to 1827 and the Freedom’s Journal, the first Black-owned newspaper in the United States, published by John B. Russwurm and Samuel E. Cornish.
“I believe it is imperative for readers of the Black Press and the Black community, in general, to understand that African Americans are uniquely resilient in making the best of the worst possible situations and maintaining a sense of dignity denied to them by this nation,” said Akwasi Evans, publisher of NOKOA The Observer.
Evans said that the Black Press has always been, and remains, the most dedicated and effective advocate for the interests of the African American community.
The evolution of the Black Press has had proprietors take on issues of chattel slavery in the 19th century, Jim Crow segregation and lynching, the great northern migration, the Civil Rights Movement, and the transformation from the printing press to the digital age and computerized communication, Evans said.
Emory University Professor Andra Gillespie said that it’s also important for Blacks to be keenly aware of their history and of their place in a global community. “Our current struggles have important historical antecedents which are important to know to understand what’s going on now and how to address it,” said Gillespie.
Moreover, it is important to be attuned to the experiences and struggles of our siblings in the Diaspora.”
From the beginning and through today, the Black Press has kept a focus on Africa, Black liberation and Pan Africanism, several publishers said. In fact, W.E.B. DuBois, known as the father of modern Pan Africanism, not only demanded civil rights for Blacks in America, he also fought for economic freedom for Africans and an end to capitalism, which he called the cause of racism and all human misery.
DuBois’ role in establishing the Pan-African Congress and his reported agitation to end colonialism made him an inspiration to many African leaders, among them Nigeria’s Nnamdi Azikiwe, who met him while a student in the U.S., and Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah, who first met DuBois at the 1945 Pan-African Congress in Britain.
“In Africa, you had the atrocity of European nations colonizing sovereign states and turning them into satellite copies of their own nations,” said Rosetta Perry, a civil rights activist and publisher of the Tennessee Tribune. “That’s one of the reasons why French is spoken so widely on the continent and why some African nations still use the English monetary system.”
Perry continued: “Black newspapers covered these stories as best they could from afar, but lacking the manpower to send correspondents over to these nations, they often depended on the reports of foreign correspondents from other publications.”
However, Perry noted that, on the other hand, all of the champions of freedom started fiercely independent publications that weren’t afraid to expose either European colonization, American co-operation with it, or African corruption in some instances.
“Sadly, the CIA’s involvement in Africa most certainly played a factor in the demise of both Lumumba and Nkrumah, though both times they claimed no connection,” she said.
Today, the Black Press continues to reach across the ocean to forge coalitions with the growing number of websites and special publications that cover Africa on a daily basis on the continent, Perry said.
“I believe that in the coming years, the Black Press will be the place to go for the real stories about what is happening not only in Africa, but the Caribbean as well,” she said.
It’s also noteworthy that the Black Press played a large role in the struggle to end apartheid in South Africa, Evans said.
“In Austin, Texas, NOKOA led the anti-apartheid movement, and its publisher helped draft the City divestment ordinance ending commerce with South Africa until they held free elections,” said Evans. “The Black Press of America is still heavily involved in informing people of the ongoing need to find and free the kidnapped [Chibok] girls of Nigeria and advocating for the end of the genocidal struggle taking place in Sudan.”
Thanks to Stacy M. Brown and NNPA for sharing this commentary with us.