Have You Heard of the BLACK PRESS?

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November 03, 2016 By Millions Two One Staff

MillionsTwoOne.com is the Largest African American Business Directory in the World. 


“It is an historical fact that no racial group of people anywhere in the world since the invention of the printing press, have attained freedom or appreciably improved their status without the aid of their own militant press…Never in the history of America, nor of the profession of journalism, has there been a greater need to keep the issue of social equality clear, and never has the opportunity for our press to become a truly great asset in the struggle for human dignity been so manifest.” – Frank L. Stanley, Former President and Co-founder of the National Newspaper Publisher’s Association.  Those words were uttered decades ago, but ring true today in the face of the current tension between police departments and communities of color.  From 1827, when John B. Russworm and Samuel Cornish started the Freedom’s Journal, to the creation of the NNPA, the Black Press has been a champion for Black issues and Black causes in America.  The Black Press was born out of the threat to free Blacks in the north and slaves in the south.

Many African Americans living today are not aware that there was a growing movement in the early 1800s to send Blacks back to Africa called the American Colonization Society.  The ACS was created by a group of White Americans in which many of them believed that free Blacks posed a serious threat to the institution of slavery.  They believed free Blacks would one day orchestrate a nation-wide slave rebellion and the only way to counter that threat was to rid the country of free Blacks by sending them back to Africa.  Along with this movement, Blacks were also constantly degraded and derided in the White press. 

“We wish to plead our own cause, too long have others spoken for us.”  This was a quote in the first editorial of the Freedom’s Journal, the first African American newspaper published on March 16, 1827.  The Freedom’s Journal took on issues of civil rights, voting rights, slavery, education and as the Freedom’s Journal described, “everything that relates to Africa”. 

From the Freedom’s Journal to the Colored American (1837-41), the North Star (1847-1860), the National Era and The Frederick Douglass Paper, African American newspapers began to circulate all around the country.  There were reportedly 500 newspapers that began publication between the Civil War and the turn of the century.  Even more fascinating was the truth that the same printing machines that African American churches used to print their programs were used to publish their newspapers.  In the late 1800s, Memphis Free Speech began to champion the issue of lynching for Blacks in the south.

In 1892, Ida B Wells became part owner of The Memphis Free Speech.  Lyching was notorious in the south and Wells traveled throughout the south to investigate the cruelty of lynching upon African Americans.  Wells published several articles and later published a pamphlet titled, “Southern Horrors.  Lynch Law in All Its Phases”.   Wells noted many reasons for lynchings.  One of the primary reasons for many lynchings in the south were the result of Blacks “competing” with Whites economically and not because major crimes had been committed.  Her writings so infuriated the southern Whites that a mob ensued and burned down the offices of The Memphis Free Speech.  Ida B. Wells was forced out of town and she moved to Chicago, IL.  There she united with Black leaders, amongst them was the great Frederick Douglas. 

One of the largest events of that day took place in Chicago called the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893.  This event was designed to show off American ingenuity to the world.  Wells published a pamphlet that was distributed to more than 20,000 people to protest the exposition for not including the history and the accomplishments of Blacks at the fair.  That protest led to organizers arranging a Colored People’s Day at the exposition that drew more than 3,000 Blacks.

As destiny would have it, Frederick Douglas who was a social reformer, abolitionist, orator, journalist and a publisher of several African American newspapers, gave a speech at the World’s Columbian Exposition that arguably helped to change the history of America and the face of Chicago for years to come.  In attendance at this speech was a gentleman named Robert S. Abbott who traveled there with the Hampton Institute Quartet to sing spirituals.  Abbott’s stepfather, a mixed-race gentleman named John Sengstacke had been a publisher of a newspaper named the Woodville Times where he taught Abott about the power of the Black Press.  Robert Sengstacke Abbott eventually moved to Chicago and became the publisher of the Chicago Defender in 1905 from his boardinghouse room.  The Chicago Defender would later become known as the most read African American newspaper in the country.

The Chicago Defender was the first African American newspaper to have a circulation over 100,000 and it made Abbott a millionaire in the early 20th Century.  The Chicago Defender spoke out against the cruel Jim Crow treatment of the South.  During World War I, Abbott and the Defender launched a campaign in support of The Great Migration.  The Great Migration was a movement to flee the rural south to urban cities of the north where greater economic opportunities awaited.  The Great Migration lasted from 1910 to 1970 and resulted in 6 Million African Americans moving from the south to the north. 

In 1940, John Sengstacke, the nephew of Robert Sengstacke Abbott founded the Negro Newspaper Publishers Association.  The first organizational meeting of African American editors and publishers was held in Louisville, KY in 1881.  Many different Black Press organizations had formed between that time period and Sengstacke was aware that the National Negro Press Association was coming to an end.  The Negro Newspaper Publishers Association was formed in efforts of “securing unity and action in all matters relative to the profession of journalism and the business of publishing”.  The Negro Newspaper Publishers Association would later be changed to the National Newspaper Publishers Association and as Sengstacke organized the first group of publisher’s, Robert S. Abbott passed away.

John Sengstacke is a great example of the power of the Black Press, also known as the National Newspaper Publishers Association and the influence that it brought along with it.  Sengstacke served seven terms as president of the NNPA.  He worked closely with President Franklin D. Roosevelt to get the first African American reporters assigned to the White House Press Corps, he turned the Chicago Defender into one of the first daily Black newspapers in the country, he was appointed by President Harry S. Truman to the national commission to oversee the integration of the armed forces and Sengstacke persuaded Roosevelt to create jobs in skilled and management positions for African Americans in the United States Postal Service.  According to the New York Times, he scalded younger Black publishers, whom he accused of abandoning tradition in the interest of money. 

The National Newspaper Publishers Association held its annual conference at the Omni Hotel in Houston, TX from June 21 – 25th, 2016.  Today, the association is under the leadership of one of the members of North Carolina’s “Wilmington 10”, Dr. Ben Chavis.  The NNPA has seen great organizational and structural change since Dr. Chavis has been in leadership.  The NNPA has more than 200 African American-owned community newspapers around the country with a collective weekly readership of over 20 million people.  

During the conference, the NNPA took part in Journalism Careers Workshops at the Historically Black College, Texas Southern University.  The workshop was such a success with the students on campus that it trended top five on Twitter in the Greater Houston area. 

The conference also welcomed the author of Our Black Year, Maggie Anderson and Eugene Mitchell of New York Life who discussed their $50 Billion Dollar Empowerment Plan.  This is an Agent-led movement designed to increase financial awareness, to create wealth and to build financial legacies.  According to Eugene Mitchell, “$500 Million of generally tax-free life insurance benefits that New York Life Agents serving the African American community have been hand-delivered to their clients’ loved ones during the last five years.”  Mitchell has noted that the agents have reached the $35 Billion mark of their $50 Billion goal.  However, Mitchell and Anderson received great push back from many of the publishers that were in the room when they were informed that New York Life was not financially supporting the movement and they were not advertising their movement in any of the Black newspapers. 

This year’s conference offered many great moments.  It honored Dr. Bobby Jones and the radio fly-jock, Tom Joyner of the Tom Joyner Morning Show.  During the Legacy Awards Gala Dinner, The St. Louis American took home most of the awards, including Newspaper of the Year.

Many of the publishers and attendees raved about the National Newspaper Millenial’s Panel.  The panel participants were the children of the publishers of several newspapers who were being groomed to take over their family business.  They discussed the rarity of Black inheritance and how they were amongst a small number of individuals in the African American community that would have a business passed down to them. 

What seemed to be a constant theme among them was the desire to have nothing to do with the family business during their younger years.  Chelsea, the daughter of Karen Carter Richards, publisher of the Houston Forward Times who now works in the family business said she, “worked for Enterprise and realized that she should use her skills to help her mother in the family business.  I was making the Taylor family money, but my mother was struggling by herself.”  Chelsea said that her goal and objective for the future of the Black newspapers is to be “warriors for Black news.  Nobody is going to tell our story like we can.” 

The session went well over its allotted time due to the interest of the audience of the discussion by the panel.  “I see friends developing businesses and they need a paper that can promote their business and what they are doing,” noted Lafayette, the son of the current Chairman of the Board of the NNPA and Washington Informer publisher.  Son of the Dallas Informer publisher, Patrick suggested to the publishers that they should “use social media, events and video to diversify what they have.”  “The challenge is to not burn yourself out because you have all of these ideas.  Learning how to harness when necessary.  We all know how to do everything, but it is not good to do everything,” noted Chida, the daughter and co-publisher of the San Diego Voice and Viewpoint.

The National Newspaper Publishers Association has been a major voice for the Black community during some of the most difficult times in this nation’s history.  It is necessary that we continue to support the NNPA and all forms of Black media.  Black Media like the Tom Joyner Morning Show, television news broadcasts like NewsOne Now with Roland Martin and online publications like Blavity, which is a platform for Black millennials.  In the words of Chelsea, “Nobody is going to tell our story like we can”.

Fortunately, in the days of dying print newspapers, this organization has found a way to remain strong for 75 years.  Unfortunately, many in the African American community are not aware of the existence of the NNPA.  It is our belief that the NNPA will continue to discover new innovative ways to reach individuals and audiences that are hungry for their content.  As said by some in leadership, the NNPA is one of the best kept secrets.