Our communities are filled with rich stories that deserve to be told. However, mainstream white media often ignores or minimizes the crises and victories of Black folk in the United States.
Thankfully, our ancestors realized this and created Freedom’s Journal in 1827 as the first Black newspaper. In the nearly 200 years since the Black press has come in many forms, but we remain a platform for truthful Black stories to be told by and for Black people.
In a June 8 Twitter Space discussion, “Legacy of the Black Press,” we invited our 10 amazing publishers from AFRO News, The Atlanta Voice, Dallas Weekly, Houston Defender, Michigan Chronicle, New York Amsterdam News, Sacramento Observer, Seattle Medium, St. Louis American, and Washington Informer to explore the legacy of the Black press and its influence in our communities.
Dr. Frances “Toni” Draper, CEO and publisher of the AFRO, shared the history of their publication, which was founded during legalized slavery by Draper’s great-grandfather.
“We started the paper so that we could tell about all facets of our society,” Draper says. “In 1892, slavery was alive and well, and we were portrayed, almost like we are today, as less than. The AFRO was on a mission to uplift our people and to tell stories that no one else would tell, to tell them fairly, and to tell them often.”
Indeed, the Black press has always been a means to uplift Black folk when the rest of society is aggressively trying to tear us down. Aswad Walker, the associate editor for the Houston Defender, further explains the function of the Black press as a champion for Black voices.
“The Houston Defender was founded in 1930 by activist and community leader Mr. Richardson, who had his hand in a whole lot of things, but just like other Black papers all around the country, it was about telling our story,” Walker says. “Every single day, Black folk were being vilified by other means of media outlets, so to tell our story from our perspective — to not only tell the bad and the ugly, but to celebrate the good and the overcoming — that’s where the Defender was founded.”
The Black press is so much more than simple reporting on news. We discover and share the solutions to issues facing the Black community so that all community members can become stronger and more prosperous. Some say that the Black press is biased, but in actuality, we are brave and unwilling to minimize the harsh impact of racism and inequality on our people.
Patrick Washington, the publisher of the Dallas Weekly, explained the difference in reporting between his publication and mainstream white media outlets during the Civil Right Movement in the 1950s. While white people were slandering Martin Luther King Jr and wanting him banned from Dallas entirely, the Dallas Weekly was willing to share the true story and inspire others to support fights for racial justice.
Washington explains, “Our experience is a fact. Mainstream press, and even greater white America, looks at our experiences as anecdotal and even individual. It’s important for us to understand — and we all do — that it’s not scary to say something is racist when it’s racist. Four hundred years of systems that keep you down isn’t a guess. There is data behind this stuff. There are facts and people’s lives who have been impacted. To tell those stories isn’t an opinion.”
The Black press is built on community activism and community preservation. As Larry Lee, publisher of the Sacramento Observer says, “If you’re not into advocacy work, if you’re not here to right wrongs, then you’re in the wrong profession.”