Historians celebrate Black Press ahead of NNPA annual convention

Freedom’s Journal, the first African-American newspaper published within the United States.

(1st in series about Black Press of America)

Dr. D’Weston Haywood did not hesitate when asked about the value of today’s Black Press of America.

The historian of 20th century American history with research and teaching interests in Black protest and protest thought, Black masculinity, Black power, and intersections of Black culture, Black politics, and Black public spheres, Dr. Haywood is himself a trusted voice.

He said the 194th anniversary of the Black Press of America and this year’s National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) summer convention theme ‘Black Press Matters: Trusted Voice, Resilient Vitality, and Transformative Vision’ is fitting.

“The Black Press has remained a resilient, trusted voice, heralding a transformative vision for nearly two centuries precisely because, since its inception, it has remained invested in truth-telling, expanding democracy, and exposing and critiquing the limits of both unapologetically,” said Dr. Haywood, who authored the 2018 book, Let Us Make Men: The Twentieth-Century Black Press and a Manly Vision for Racial Advancement.

The NNPA, the 81-year-old trade association representing the 230 African American-owned newspapers and media companies that comprise the Black Press of America, will host its annual convention from June 23 to June 26.

While the conventions regularly occur in cities throughout the country, the pandemic has forced the NNPA to hold the event virtually for the second consecutive year.

This year’s theme highlights how significant the Black Press remains, its vitality in the many communities it serves, and the transformative vision that has helped keep the millions of subscribers informed.

“The Black Press has been able to survive, and thrive, at least since 1827 because of its remarkable ability to speak to the immediate needs and interests of the constituency that it represents: African Americans,” said Gerald Horne, an American historian who currently holds the John J. and Rebecca Moores Chair of History and African American Studies at the University of Houston, and who authored the book, The Rise and Fall of the Associated Negro Press: Claude Barnett’s Pan-African News and the Jim Crow Paradox.

From Samuel E. Cornish and John B. Russwurm’s Freedom’s Journal to Frederick Douglass’ North Star to John Abbott’s Chicago Defender, African American-owned newspapers have sparked fires for truth and equality that have burned with the passion of fighting for freedom throughout history.

March 16 marked the 194th anniversary of the Black Press of America, whose global impact remains undeniable.

It all began with Freedom’s Journal, the first African American newspaper which in 1827, announced its presence with a front page that contained these words:

“We wish to plead our own cause. Too long have others spoken for us.”

The 4-page edition included stories about the struggle to end the horrors of slavery, lynching, and social injustice.

It also informed the African American community of international news of particular interest like Haiti and Sierra Leone events.

The newspaper featured biographies of African American men and women, schools, jobs, and housing opportunities.

Those who have made contributions to the Black Press include Douglass, WEB DuBois, Ida B. Wells, Patrice Lumumba, Kwame Nkrumah, and former NNPA Chairman Dr. Carlton Goodlett.

“Over the course of its storied history, The Black Press of America has stared down government suppression, defied mob violence, and resisted many a Post-Truth era before it ever had a name, all to report, cover, and construct stories that might move the public, institutions, and historical zeitgeist to forge America into what it should be,” Dr. Haywood concluded.

Registration for the 2021 convention is free, and those interested can sign up at <www.virtualnnpa2021.com>.

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