Abayomi Azikiwe, Pan-African News Wire Editor, covering an anti-war demonstration in Washington, D.C. on Oct. 25, 2003 (BBC Photograph).
Originally uploaded by Pan-African News Wire Photo File
By Hazel Trice Edney
Samuel Cornish and John Russwurm founded the Freedom’s Journal, America’s first Black newspaper
In 1827 when Samuel Cornish and John Russwurm founded the Freedom’s Journal, America’s first Black newspaper, Black people were still in slavery.
It was that publication, Frederick Douglass’ North Star, and the hundreds that came after them that led the way to freedom and citizenship for Black people in America.
Through the ‘’Double V’’ campaign of World War II that fought the battle against racism at home and fascism abroad, to lynchings and Jim Crow, Black reporters, who could not work in White newsrooms, dedicated themselves to groundbreaking stories that impacted public policies for Black progress.
The stories also put White segregationist newspapers to shame.
Eventually, during the civil rights movement, White-owned newspapers opened their doors to African Americans. They did it - in part – because they needed the perspective of Black writers and their sources in the Black community in order to report stories of injustices with any semblance of credibility.
Today, 180 years later, the Black Press, still documenting the oppression and progression of Black people in America, is reaching for the next generation to continue its mission. Through the Black Press Fellowship, a partnership between the Department of Journalism at Howard University and the National Newspaper Publishers Association, young journalists are preparing to carry the torch at Black newspapers around the country.
“I was interested in writing stories for an audience that I cared about. I really believe in the power of the media and I found, when looking at my options, that this medium would help me do that more than any,” says Shari Logan of Brooklyn, NY. “A lot of people, when they looked at my resume, were surprised that I didn’t seek a job at the other publications that I’d interned for. But the things that I wrote about weren’t necessarily going to keep me excited throughout the year. I thought about that and this fellowship just sort of came right on time. And I said, ‘Okay, this is more like a better fit.’”
As part of the fellowship, Logan, Heather Faison, Amber English and Brandon Holmes, all of whom graduated from Howard in May, have completed four weeks of training at the NNPA News Service. The training, funded by the Ford Foundation, aimed to prepare the graduates to work for the next two years at several of NNPA’s member newspapers.
The NNPA training included lectures and seminars by journalists and other media professionals, visits to congressional offices and weekly deadlines in the NNPA newsroom.
Logan will be working for the Houston Defender. She says her initial inspiration to apply for the fellowship came from Howard communications professor Dr. Clint Wilson, who teaches a course in multicultural media.
“Dr. Wilson talked about the first Black publishers and how they wrote, ‘We have to plead our own cause,’ and I was like, wow. That’s very, very powerful even today in 2007,” she enthused.
Heather Faison, who will be going to the Philadelphia Tribune, also took Wilson’s class . She says she became interested in the fellowship when he first conceived and announced it, but she was especially intrigued by the educational benefits of starting her career in the Black Press.
“What really sealed the deal was an article that I read, an interview with Milton Coleman with the Washington Post and how he started out in the Black Press,” says Faison of Raleigh, NC. “He felt that it was a teaching experience for him and a lot of what he knows now he credits to the Black Press. I got an opportunity to speak with him a couple of days after I read that. He really encouraged me to go into the Black Press.”
Wilson, author of “A History of the Black Press,” says he applied for the fellowship grant not only to open opportunities for the graduates, but in order to infuse fresh perspectives into the Black Press.
“I think that the Black Press is... as important as it has always been,” he said. “I sense that in recent years our young people have not been exposed to it. And opportunities to work in the mainstream media far overshadow the Black Press; so our best talent is being recruited by the White Press,” Wilson says. “The ethnic press is the fastest growing area of the media. That’s why some of the White media is trying to buy those properties or start their own,” says Wilson. “Also, people are starving for information that is vital to them.”
Wilson says the Black Press is also an outlet for young people to use their artistic skills.
“Just as some young people say that they find rap music or spoken word as a venue of expression, the Black Press is another way of expressing the mind of the Black community, reminiscent of the editorial in Freedom’s Journal, America’s first Black newspaper, which stated ‘We want to plead our own cause,’” Wilson says. “In a way, our students need to realize that the Black Press is a more sophisticated way for them to do that.”
Issues pertaining to the social, economic, educational, judicial and political affairs of Black people are documented in more than 200 Black-owned newspapers every day. Though they have changed since the 1960s, racism and White supremacy still prevail throughout the culture of America.
Amber English, who recently wrote a story headlined,
“Presidential Candidates Still Silent on Most Issues Pertaining to African-Americans” says she has always had a passion for politics.
“So often, we’re taught in school to kind of glaze over the issues. I want to be a little more bold and a little more assertive in my reporting, and I think I’ll be able to learn that through the Black Press as opposed to if I went to, say, a smaller newspaper and I was just a new reporter and I got to cover little or nothing,” says English.
She will be employed at CrossRoadNews in Decatur, GA. “I hope to improve upon just being able to focus on the issues that mean the most to the community.”
Brandon Holmes, who had earned a three-year scholarship from the Chicago Defender, says he has always had a connection with the Black Press. So he is happy to go to a place where his talents can be both showcased and used to serve. Holmes is the only advertising fellow in the group.
“I wanted a close-knit environment where I could probably talk to the editor-in-chief myself,” he says.
“I’ve had to write an essay every year on the importance of journalism and community service. After writing that essay every year, I began to really take journalism seriously. I never wanted to be a journalist, but since advertising is a part of journalism, I began to look further into it.
“I’ve watched different historical films on [Defender founder] Robert S. Abbot, [NNPA founder John] Sengstacke and all of those good, wonderful, historical figures that I would like to be like one day.”
Holmes will be going to work at Insight News in Minneapolis, MN. He was one of the students in a marketing campaign class that worked on a rebranding project for NNPA last year and presented their ideas to the organization’s winter conference in Phoenix.
NNPA Chairwoman Dorothy Leavell, publisher of the Chicago Crusader, says the youthful vision helps to infuse new blood into the Black Press to assure its legacy remains strong.
“It’s important because the Black Press must live. Even though technology and television are everywhere you go, that written word cannot cease – not for the Black Press,” Leavell says.