By: Roy Douglas Malonson
When you think about the purpose of the “black press,” what comes to mind? This is a question that is not asked enough. Journalism has been around for centuries, and at one time, there were no Black newspapers for black people. Journalism is a powerful tool that is used to communicate news, to millions of people across the entire world. But when it comes to black news, are those who are a part of the black press truly fulfilling the intended mission it set out to accomplish?
According to The American Historian, “The members of the black press were an amalgamation of professional journalists, citizen journalists, influencers, pundits, and everyday readers who all shared a stake in promoting civil rights, reporting “race beat” news, and using their editorial voices to speak truth to power on the experience of racism.” The members of the black press were not afraid to speak for a race that had no representation in other media outlets. They were the voice for the voiceless and used the power of the pen to expose the realities of what blacks were facing.
The Freedom’s Journal was the first African American newspaper in the United States. Freedom’s Journal was created by John Russwurm and Samuel Cornish on March 16, 1827. It was a weekly four column publication that printed every Friday. The publication consisted of biographies, births and deaths in the black community, foreign and domestic news, and editorials. The editorials were focused on racial discrimination and other injustices that blacks were facing. Since there were many white media outlets that openly supported slavery and racial bias, Freedom’s Journal’s mission and purpose was to expose the truth. The publication also wanted to encourage literacy within the black community.
Another historical newspaper is the Houston Informer, which was published in Houston by Clifton Richardson Sr., on May 2, 1919. The newspaper was a weekly publication that used “subscription agents to increase readership and advertising agents to secure regional and national advertisements.” The newspaper’s content was based on a ten-point platform created by Richardson that focused on the “advocacy of domestic and foreign democracy, playgrounds for African American children and the improvement of educational facilities for them, an educated and consecrated ministry, development of the Houston Ship Channel, cooperation between races, better streets, federal investigations and legislation regarding lynching, and equality before the law for all men.”
It also focused on voter suppression, anti-lynching laws, salary gaps between races in the Houston Independent School District (HISD), and the “recommendations of the Colored Citizens’ Committee on the HISD’s, $3 million bond issue for the schools in the district,” the need for effective parenting, and a host of other events and issues. All the elements discussed in the newspaper were issues that concerned the African American community and society as a whole. Like Freedom’s Journal, the Informer was not afraid to discuss the problems that needed to be addressed. They did not sugar code or hold back anything. This is what the black press should look like.
Today, the black press has lost its way. There are many issues that are occurring in our society that are not discussed in the black press. We are watching history repeat itself and the black press isn’t doing a damn thing about it. As a race, we are two steps back further than we were before. This is the reason why the African American News and Issues Newspaper (Afram News) was created 27 years ago in the heart of Acres Homes. The sole purpose and mission of Afram News is to address the current and historical realities affecting our communities. If not us, then who?
The mission of the black press must not falter. It has to stand stronger now more than ever. It is time for the black press to be that voice once again for the black community. It is time for the black press to produce content that will continue to move our race forward. It is time for the black press to educate our people and our youth, so they will know their history in a world that wants it erased. It is time for the black press to return to the grassroots of its intended mission.
Some Black Publications Established in Houston
The Western Star-Exact origination date unknown. (1881 or 1893)
Informer and Texas Freeman-1919
The Negro Labor News-1930
The Texas Examiner-1942
Old Ironsides Monthly-1947
The Voice of Hope-1968
The Houston Call-1970
The Houston Sun-1982