The Importance of Black Media

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By Jermaine Brodnax

Why is it important for Black Americans to have their own media? Out of the last four hundred years, only the last one hundred and ninety-three years, represented blacks controlling their own media.

In early slavery, Black Americans were banned from reading and writing, this was to keep their mentality on a kid’s level. A kid Is easier to control than an adult. The Elite whites were terrified that black slaves who could read and write, could maneuver through white society more easily and be exposed to ideas of freedom, making blacks better critical thinkers. 

Is this the real reason black media is not as mainstream as other black programs? The suppression of the black narrative still continues today, how did we get here?

The earliest forms of a black narrative on paper, in America, was” The pamphlet Negro’s & Indians Advocate” by Morgan Godwyn. Published in England in 1680. This pamphlet caused so much controversy in Virginia, because it was preaching that planters should promote the spiritual welfare of their slaves by converting them to Christianity. Even though a white man created this doctrine, it important to understand he was chased out of Virginia and had to flee to Barbados. The moral is the black narrative was a bannable practice for whites and blacks.

In the 1820s, New York newspapers would usually run content that promoted slavery. New York had economic connections to the south, as a cotton exporter and textile producer. In the white newspapers, Black people were mocked, portrayed as childish children. Or portrayed as rapist or killers.

One of the reasons the colonizers passed laws banning black from reading, because if an enslaved black could read and write, they could also forge documents required to escape to free states. Which is what many blacks were doing in an undocumented way.  Before the first black newspapers hit the scene, the two pieces of media that gave slaves and free blacks leverage in the fight for abolition were slave narratives and abolitionist newspapers.

The abolitionist were more concerned about raising money for themselves, than actually fighting white supremacy. Which left only the slave narratives, which portrayed a happy or sad life of a slave in the South. These medias would open the doors for more black narratives. The first black media for black Americans, was the” Freedom’s Journal” newspaper, Founded on March 16, 1827. Two black American men by the names of John Russwurm and Samuel Eli Cornish. They would create editorials exposing slavery, racial discrimination. This was done to offset, the white newspapers which openly supported slavery and racial hate towards black Americans. This newspaper is credited for planting the seeds for an independent Black press, 30 years before the start of the Civil War.

In 1829, David Walker (a free black man from bottom) published a pamphlet called ”Walker’s Appeal, in Four Articles; Together with a Preamble, to the Coloured Citizens of the World, but in Particular, and Very Expressly, to Those of the United States of America.” These abolitionist pamphlets open the door for a white abolitionist to do it on a wider level.

In 1831, William Lloyd Garrison a white man, advocated the immediate emancipation of all slaves created the newspaper called” The Liberator”. This event is important to black history, because this newspaper would inspire Frederick Douglass to create his own newspaper called” the north star”. Douglass understood that slavery could be attacked through political action as well as through moral empathy. Douglass knew that black people themselves must control the narrative.

Which is why Douglass split with William Garrison and created his own media, so he can control it. The North Star was printed from late 1847 to June 1851. More black newspapers would generate, because of Douglass taking the step in the right direction. The north star would merge with another publication and was reborn as Frederick Douglass’ Paper. The white elite would read these newspapers. The North Star had 4,000 subscribers, and it was read in Europe and the West Indies.

By the start of the Civil War in 1861, America was home to more than 40 Black-owned and operated newspapers. A lot these founders of black newspapers were Prince Hall Freemasons. Over 500 Black newspapers were created during the 35 years between 1865 and 1900.

The California Eagle was founded by John J Neymour in 1879. The Colored American Magazine, which founded in 1900. The Chicago Defender was founded in 1905 by Robert S. Abbott.

Robert Sengstacke Abbott, is credited with promoting the Great Migration or the exodus out of the south. In this newspaper, Robert encouraged Black Southerners to move north, where job opportunities were flourishing due to industrialization and a labor shortage sparked by World War I.

This was the true first black media platform, that gave blacks instructions, in addition to a black agenda. The Chicago Defender published schedules of trains departing the South, printing success stories of Black people who had migrated north, giving disenfranchised Black Southerners hope and a blueprint. This was the best use of black media since the formation nearly 100 years before.

Enter Ida B. Wells, her pen name was “Iola”, she had many of her articles published in black newspapers. She later became an owner of two newspapers: The Memphis Free Speech and Headlight and Free Speech. Ida wanted to become her own version of black media after 3 of her friends got lynched by racist white angry mobs. She would speak on lynchings, and this angered whites, A mob stormed her newspaper office and destroyed all of her equipment, one day when Ida was in New York City.  No copies of the Memphis Free Speech exist today. Ida would go on to become one of the founders of the NAACP. She left the organization, after she found out they were about talks but no actions.

Another power black media newspaper, was” The Pittsburgh Courier” (1907-1966). The Pittsburgh Courier came under fire during World War II when it advocated for blacks to fight the war overseas and fight white supremacy at home. It became known as the “Double Victory Campaign. Double V stood for victory abroad and victory at home. Promoted by the Pittsburgh Courier, Black America rallied behind the Double V concept, translating the slogan into songs, emblems, and even hairstyles.

Eventually this movement would spread to other newspapers. The Pittsburgh Courier and other papers also reported on racism in the military, which the government thought would hurt morale. The military would keep troops from receiving black newspapers, by burning them.

J. Edgar Hoover considered the Double V campaign a threat to white supremacy, claiming that it would incite rioting and terrorism. Hoover convinced President Roosevelt to order hearings to prove these blacks are committing treason. In 1942 Hoover presented reports to the Attorney General asked him to indict a group of black publishers for treason. The attorney general stated, “If you don’t stop writing this stuff, we’re gonna take some black publishers to court under the Espionage Act.”

This is an example of how black media has been censored since post-civil war. From Abolition Papers to BET, how have Black People continued to spread the news? Without our own media outlets, we are placing our stories and our futures into the hands of the oppressors. Back then, Black newspapers depended on circulation for money, while white papers could depend on companies desperate for ad space to target white people. This sums up the success rates of black & white magazines.

In 2020, our black media outlets must compete with dusty celebrity gossip sites like Shaderoom. Which is a Nigerian owned site, that promotes black Americans in a bad light. Where is our popular black media that empowers us? We have Oprah, but is she really with us or against us? According to history, every time we talk about fighting back white supremacy using our newspapers, we become targets. We still need to keep our legacy going, by calling out systematic racism.

Malcolm X once said, “If you’re not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.”