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  The Negro press serves this special need of stimulating

the morale of the Negro  in fighting for progress in the American

social order, and in keeping step with modern civilization.



     The Negro Press in the United States

By Floyd L. Calvin


The growing importance of the Negro press in the American social order is attested by a number of factors; the publication each year by the U. S. Department of Commerce, of a list of Negro newspapers in the International Year Book of “Editors and Publishers,” the official newspaper trade publication which carries data on all newspapers published in the civilized world; the care given to the cultivation of the Negro newspapers by the major political parties during national and some local campaigns; and the emphasis being placed on journalism by the Negro colleges of higher grade; and the increasing number of highly trained young Negro journalists coming out of the best American schools of journalism. Just this spring a young man became the managing editor of the “Louisiana Weekly” of New Orleans, upon completing his journalistic studies at the University of Michigan.

Since the term “Negro Press” is being used rather freely in this article, a word of explanation.

The Negro press is now of age. It is well over one hundred years old, having celebrated its centennial in 1927. Its first editor was John Russwurm, the first Negro college graduate in America.

There are about 150 Negro publications of varying importance, practically all of them weekly, except one daily, the “Atlanta Daily World” of Atlanta, Georgia founded March 13, 1932, by the late W.A. Scott. There are about fifteen national weeklies,-that is, papers edited in approved journalistic technique, issued in some instances from plants valued near six figures, with trained staff, and some of the staffs, mechanical and editorial, are unionized. The national weeklies carry from twenty to thirty-two pages, cover elaborately major news events of special interest to the Negro reader like Joe Louis fights, Negro college football classics, and extraordinary phenomenon like the Ethiopian war.

The Department of Commerce, in its report dated May, 1939, says: “Not less than 227 Negro newspapers and 105 magazines and bulletins were published by Negroes in the United States during the year beginning November 1, 1937 and ending October 31, 1938. 

The combined circulation of the 145 newspapers, from which the Census Bureau received circulation figures was 1,322,072. The total city circulation of 119 newspapers was 801,751,546,740 (68.2 percent) of which was local. A comparison of the reports submitted by 59 newspapers in 1936, 1937 and 1938 shows for the period of 1936-1937 a circulation increase of 46,850 and for 1937-1938, an increase of  56, 475. The total circulation of 97 newspapers from which reports were received in 1937 and 1938 increased 102, 087. The number of Negro papers operating by geographic division during 1938 were: New England, 2; Middle Atlantic 33; East North Central, 37; West North Central, 16; South Atlantic, 57; East South Central, 36; West South Central 31; Mountain, 5; Pacific, 10.

One hundred seven newspapers, reported 1,066 full time employees and 944 full time workers were employed in the home offices of 97 newspapers. Seventy-six newspapers employing 898 workers had, during the year, monthly payroll of $60,929.

The estimated value of the equipment used by 82 Negro newspapers was 2, 221,903. Fifty-two newspapers used during this year 4,626 tons of paper.

Why the Negro press? Simply because the white press does not carry Negro social news, and it is not interested in developing the Negro group as a social entity. The Negro press serves this special need of stimulating the morale of the Negro in fighting for progress in the American social order, and in keeping step with modern civilization. Nowhere else does the Negro get news of his special events, encouragement, stimulation and laudation for his achievements. And nowhere else is the fight for his civic, social, and cultural progress more vigorously championed, as a perennial theme, and with more vitality, because the approach is always from the intensely personal angle.

It may not cross the mind of the average white American that the Negro thinks in terms of the beauty of his women, the social future of his children, and the social, cultural and spiritual contacts afforded by his group. Any Negro paper reflects, first of all the outlines of this picture in a given locality. No other paper gives this reflection of Negro life, so the Negro turns to his paper to know what is going on of first importance to him. Of course the Negro reads the white press, too, for he must if he is to know what is happening in the world at large. Another penalty of being colored-you must buy two newspapers and keep up with two worlds!

The press of a group is expected to reflect the thinking of the group. This is true of the Negro press and the Negro group. However, peculiar conditions in the Negro group make for oddities in the Negro press. Some white readers, even those fairly neutral in their thinking on racial topics, on becoming acquainted with the Negro press, feel that it distorts news, discredits its own people, and altogether gives too much space to unwholesome news.

As one who has worked with the Negro press for more than twenty years, and speaking not as an apologist, but more as a guide to the new field, the writer states that Negro editors, because of their limited experience in building a society, unfortunately too often do not take the constructive social approach in the treatment of the news. This tendency is deplored among certain circles of Negro leaders, but the tendency has an economic background, as will be shown below, hence it is not easily corrected.

For instance, color prejudice not only blocks the Negro wage earner when he seeks a job, but it blocks the Negro editor when he seeks national advertising. The lack of this advertising makes the Negro editor a marginal man-he must live on “short rations,” the pennies his consumers pay for his product, rather than on advertising revenue, as is correct in the publishing business. This abnormal situation causes the Negro editor to present his news from the more shocking angle, to make more of his people buy his product so the business will pay. That is why the Negro editor seems to have a morbid viewpoint. But suppose American industry, as such, paid into the business offices of the Negro newspapers $1,000,000 a year for legitimate advertising of products which are bought by Negroes, what a difference this would make in the development of the Negro press! But it will take a great deal of interracial work to bring about this happy, but just event. The Federal Government guarantees that the Negro press has circulation of importance. When will American industry give this press a square deal on national advertising?

In spite of all this, it is the belief of this writer, however, that the Negro editor is one of the most liberal in America. Take a cross section of the hinterland in the United States and it will be found that Negro newspapers are as quick, if not quicker, to give ANY cause a fair hearing than will be given in the white press. Even this is noticeable in the carrying of Catholic news by the Negro press throughout the country. Denominational papers like the “Christian Recorder,” official organ of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, Philadelphia, Pa.; “The Star Zion”, organ of the A.M.E. Zion Church, Charlotte, N. C.; “The Tampa Bulletin” owned by the a high A.M.E. churchman; and many other Negro newspapers owned by Protestant editors, carry Catholic news as readily, as prominently, and as frequently as they carry any other religious news. This is just as true an example of liberalism as if it were the white press; and if this were not true, it would reflect an unwholesome spirit in democracy.

This shows that the Negro editor can be counted on, basically, to help build a stronger and greater democracy, a fact of which Negro thinkers, and white thinkers, too, are proud.

We who love America are hoping that, as the Fourth of July orators exclaim, she will continue to move forward to her “manifest destiny;” and that Negro and white leaders and thinkers will consult with each other in an effort to see at all times, that no group is slighted; that ALL AMERICANS will be given a square deal; and that the old traditions of neglect of the weakest will be discarded. When we look abroad and see how hate has climbed into high places, we shudder for our own country. We do not believe such will ever happen here; but we ought to use precautions to safeguard our own liberties. To be effective against intolerance, white and colored of like mind and heart must work together to stem the unholy tide. The Negro press can be counted on to stand firm for the principles of true democracy. But the Negro editor is logical. He wants the right hand of true fellowship for his own group so that his arguments for fair play will not sound hallow in his own ears. After all, the Negro editor must live with himself. If he is  convinced that America is moving steadily toward the light of tolerance and fair play for ALL, he will throw the full force of his strength on the side of social justice.

The Negro Press has already shown that it likes the program of the Catholic interracial movement, As long as Catholics continue to move forward as they are now going, there can be no doubt that the Negro press will bid them Godspeed, and will give them  cordial but firm support.

Source:  Interracial Review (October 1939)

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Samuel Cornish (above left) and John Russwurm (above right) found during the 1820s Freedom's Journal, the nation's first black newspaper. Cornish was a minister in the Presbyterian Church. His partner, Russwurm, a scholarly man, was the first black American to graduate from college. Freedom's Journal was quite popular for a while among blacks in the North and among sympathetic whites. The Journal lasted four years.

Left: Robert L. Vann, an attorney, built the Pittsburgh Courier from a religious publication into a nationally-read journal.

Right: Robert S. Abbott found modern black journalism with his Chicago Defender in 1905. It is now one of the two black dailies.

Robert Sengstacke Abbott (24 November 1870 - February 29, 1940) was an African American lawyer and newspaper publisher. Born on November 24, 1870 in St. Simons Island, Georgia (although some sources state Savannah, Georgia) to former slave parents. Abbott was still a baby when his father, Thomas Abbott, died. Flora Abbott (née Butler), his mother, then met and married John Sengstacke, who came to Georgia from Germany in 1869. Sengstacke's background was remarkable: his father, Herman, was a wealthy German merchant immigrant who in 1847 had purchased the freedom of a slave woman, Tama, from the auction block and subsequently married her; John, their child, was sent to Germany to be raised there.

John returned to the States and met the German speaking Flora, married, and raised Abbott with a large family background in cross-race successes. John was a Congregationalist missionary who wrote: "There is but one church, and all who are born of God are members of it. God made a church, man made denominations. God gave us a Holy Bible, disputing men made different kinds of disciples."

Abbott went on and studied the printing trade at Hampton Institute (now Hampton University) from 1892 to 1896. At Hampton, he sang with the Hampton Quartet which traveled extensively. He received a law degree from Kent College of Law, Chicago in 1898, but because of race prejudice in the United States was unable to practice, despite attempts to establish law offices in Gary, Indiana, Topeka, Kansas, and Chicago, Illinois.

In 1905 he founded The Chicago Defender with an initial investment of 25 cents. The Defender, which became the most widely circulated black newspaper in the country, came to be known as "America's Black Newspaper" and made Abbott one of the first self-made millionaires of African-American descent.Wikipedia

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Left: In 1934 John H. Sengstacke (1912-1997) became Vice President and General Manager of The Robert S. Abbott Publishing Company, and served as its president, following Robert S. Abbott's death in 1940. He founded The National Newspaper Association in 1940, and served as its president for seven terms. The organization was established to unify African American newspaper publishers and currently has over 200 members. He started the Chicago Daily Defender in 1956.

In this photo Sengstacke rides in a motorcade with President Harry S. Truman and Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley

Right: Two leading publishers, William O. Walker (l.) and the late Carl Murphy, were giants in the field of black newspaper publishing. Walker published the Cleveland Call and Post. Murphy headed the Afro-American, a chain of East Coast newspapers.

Left: Frederick Douglass, the foremost black abolitionist was the publisher of North Star, a newspaper whose avowed purpose was to oppose slavery "in all its forms" and to promote "the moral and intellectual improvement of the colored people."



Source: Ebony (1975)

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Bibliographic Checklist of African American Newspapers

By Barbara Henritze

This book contains a complete checklist of African American newspapers identified in all major bibliographic sources--newspaper directories, union lists, finding aids, African American bibliographies, yearbooks, and specifically African American newspaper sources. In short, it is a comprehensive checklist of every newspaper that has served African Americans since 1827—a total of 5,539 newspapers. For reference purposes the text is arranged in tabular format under the following headings: newspaper title, city and state of publication, frequency of publication, dates, and sources. Newspapers are listed by state and city, which are in alphabetical order, then, by city, in alphabetical order by title. The papers are again listed alphabetically in the index, this time in a single, comprehensive list which serves as the best fingertip reference to black newspapers in existence. This is a core book for any collection of African American reference materials.

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Salvage the Bones

A Novel by Jesmyn Ward

On one level, Salvage the Bones is a simple story about a poor black family that’s about to be trashed by one of the most deadly hurricanes in U.S. history. What makes the novel so powerful, though, is the way Ward winds private passions with that menace gathering force out in the Gulf of Mexico. Without a hint of pretension, in the simple lives of these poor people living among chickens and abandoned cars, she evokes the tenacious love and desperation of classical tragedy. The force that pushes back against Katrina’s inexorable winds is the voice of Ward’s narrator, a 14-year-old girl named Esch, the only daughter among four siblings. Precocious, passionate and sensitive, she speaks almost entirely in phrases soaked in her family’s raw land. Everything here is gritty, loamy and alive, as though the very soil were animated. Her brother’s “blood smells like wet hot earth after summer rain. . . . His scalp looks like fresh turned dirt.” Her father’s hands “are like gravel,” while her own hand “slides through his grip like a wet fish,” and a handsome boy’s “muscles jabbered like chickens.” Admittedly, Ward can push so hard on this simile-obsessed style that her paragraphs risk sounding like a compost heap, but this isn’t usually just metaphor for metaphor’s sake.

She conveys something fundamental about Esch’s fluid state of mind: her figurative sense of the world in which all things correspond and connect. She and her brothers live in a ramshackle house steeped in grief since their mother died giving birth to her last child. . . . What remains, what’s salvaged, is something indomitable in these tough siblings, the strength of their love, the permanence of their devotion.WashingtonPost

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Hopes and Prospects

By Noam Chomsky

In this urgent new book, Noam Chomsky surveys the dangers and prospects of our early twenty-first century. Exploring challenges such as the growing gap between North and South, American exceptionalism (including under President Barack Obama), the fiascos of Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S.-Israeli assault on Gaza, and the recent financial bailouts, he also sees hope for the future and a way to move forward—in the democratic wave in Latin America and in the global solidarity movements that suggest "real progress toward freedom and justice." Hopes and Prospects is essential reading for anyone who is concerned about the primary challenges still facing the human race. "This is a classic Chomsky work: a bonfire of myths and lies, sophistries and delusions. Noam Chomsky is an enduring inspiration all over the world—to millions, I suspect—for the simple reason that he is a truth-teller on an epic scale. I salute him." —John Pilger

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A History of the Black Press
By Armistead S. Pride and Clint C. Wilson II

In this work, Dr. Wilson chronicles the development of black newspapers in New York City and draws parallels to the development of presses in Washington, D.C., and in 46 of the 50 United States. He describes the involvement of the press with civil rights and the interaction of black and nonblack columnists who contributed to black- and white-owned newspapers. . . . Through reorganization and exhaustive research to ascertain source materials from among hundreds of original and photocopied documents, clippings, personal notations, and private correspondence in Dr. Pride's files, Dr. Wilson completed this compelling and inspiring study of the black press from its inception in 1827 to 1997.

This is a major and noteworthy contribution to scholarship on the African American press. As Washington Post columnist Dorothy Gilliam concludes in the foreword, “Pride and Wilson’s comprehensive history is a lasting tribute to the men and women within the black press of both the past and the present and to those who will make it what it will be in the future.

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P.B. Young, Newspaperman

Race, Politics, and Journalism in the New South, 1910-1962

By Henry Lewis Suggs

P.B. Young, the son of a former slave, published the Norfolk Journal and Guide , a black weekly, for more than 50 years, until his death in 1962. From a circulation of a few hundred in 1909 to a circulation of 75,000 during the 1950s, the Guide became the largest press in the South. This book explores P.B. Young's personal history and charts his positions on a variety of social issues.

Historians have largely neglected the Guide and its editor. Henry Lewis Suggs, mainly using Young's personal papers (heretofore closed to scholars) and the files of the Guide, fills that historiographical void  . . .The book will almost certainly remain the definitive study of P.B. Young.—David B. Parker,

Another neglected figure in black history has been rescued from obscurity in this biography of Plummer Bernard Young . . .Suggs has thoroughly researched his subject.—Theodore Kornweibel, Jr.

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery / George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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