Posted March 26, 2018
“We wish to plead our own cause. Too long have others spoken for us. Too long has the public been deceived by representations”- Freedom’s Journal
Black Americans need to deal with the reality that, racism remains a major obstacle to black progress, as such the Black Press should be considered to be “an American institution.” In conjunction with the church, the Black Press is a pillar of Black American communities. Operating in all principal metropolitan markets, the Black Press has been Black America’s voice since 1827. Sadly, many contemporary millennial do not know the Black Press, nor instructive ways it has chronicled and commented on events as they’ve occurred, evolved and impacted African Americans.
First of all, Black businesses are in media pursuing profits. But, from inception, the Black Press has been a change agent shining a light on the plight of blacks and giving them the power to write and report their own narratives. “Today the Black Press is more relevant than ever” says Dorothy R. Leavell chairman of the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA). The NNPA is a trade association of African American-owned community newspapers around the U.S. Black publishers say they comprise a combined readership of 15 million with an electronic news service to provide real-time news and information to its national constituency and continue fulfilling the declaration: “We wish to plead our own cause.”
Black publishers recently celebrated Black Press Week. Since slavery, Black papers have been the bane of Backs’ progress. From Reconstruction to Jim Crow, majority-community papers usually wouldn’t even run African-American obituaries. At the turn of the 20th Century, Black papers became the primary means of group expression and main community service outlet, reporting on job opportunities and retailers that didn’t discriminate, and covering charity events in uplifting society pages with big pictures of smiling, dignified black people enjoying each other’s company. Politics, sports, money and social issues were reported from the perspective of black readers. The careers of Lena Horne, Little Richard, Paul Robeson, and many other entertainment greats were promoted in their early stages before major mainstream media took notice.
To get more advertising targeted toward the African-American community — a consumer segment that is 13% of the population, black newspapers need more community activists and the race-conscious to “get the word out” to help local Black Press. Like so many of their American small business counterparts, Black newspaper operations are often family-owned, in third, or fourth-generation ownership, Today’s Black Press needs more appreciation for their crucial role in ethnic progress. One of the principals among most urban commercial corridors, members of the Black Press are stakeholders where we live. Often property owners and employment sites, Black newspapers are generations old and still the medium dealing with Blacks’ political debates and advocacy. To really accrue power, Blacks need utilize medium that successfully fought against segregation, demanded equal rights and helped elect politicians to office.
It’s time more people and communities saluted the black press as a critical—but too often ignored—aspect of African American history and culture. Black papers gained prominence as the Great Migration pulled African Americans from the rural South. The numbers of black newspapers and periodicals exploded along with urban black populations. Black publishers such as Robert Abbott and Robert Vann became millionaires during the period.
The Black Press has been central to America’s Blacks’ community formation, protest and advocacy, education and literacy, and economic self-sufficiency. Black newspapers are “where we are.”
William Reed is publisher of “Who’s Who in Black Corporate America” and available for projects via Busxchng@his.com