March 16 – Black Press Day

Posted on March 16, 2016

 On this date in 1827, editors John Brown Russwurm and Reverend Samuel Cornish published the first issue of Freedom's Journal. This is considered by the National Newspaper Publishers Association to be the first black newspaper in the United States; to commemorate the date, NNPA has declared today to be Black Press Day.

Russwurm and Cornish wrote in their famous first editorial, “We wish to plead our own cause. For too long have others spoken for us.”

The North Star, founded by Frederick Douglass, was another important early entry in African American journalism. As you can imagine, Freedom's Journal and The North Star were published in the north. Many copies were handed out in secret in the South. I picture enslaved people secretly teaching one another to read using these newspapers, or gathering around the literate ones among them to get news.

Freedom's Journal was founded by Peter Williams, Jr., and several other free black men who lived in New York City. They carefully chose Russwurm and Cornish, who were already community activists, to be the editors. The goals for the newspaper included opposing New York papers that attacked African American people and encouraged slavery – even though slavery was gradually becoming illegal in New York, the state's economy had strong ties to the South, because its textile mills processed cotton grown in the South. Largely with labor of enslaved people.

Another goal was to oppose articles in the abolitionist press. Of course, abolitionists wanted to abolish all slavery – so that's a good thing – but a lot of white journalists writing for the abolitionist press still described black people as being simpler, more childlike and dependent, and inferior to white people.

Black press is more than newspapers.
Black newspapers were an important source of information during times of slavery, times of Civil War, times of Jim Crow laws, and times of the Civil Rights Movement...and the black press is still an important source of information now!

Even though many of us talk about the death of newspapers in the age of the internet, has been established to help people find African American newspapers throughout the U.S. and to provide links to these newspapers' websites and social media sites – all in one place. 

The Black Press Research Collective offers some lesson plans to teach about Freedom's Journal and the importance of black voices in journalism. 

Watch the PBS film Soldiers Without Swords

Also on this date:

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