Black Press Day is observed on March 16 every year. It commemorates when the first Black newspaper, “Freedom’s Journal,” hit the stands in New York City in 1827. For nearly 200 years since, Black publishers, writers, photographers, and editors have spoken truth to power on issues of racism. They are different groups united by one mission: unapologetic, unabashed documentation of the Black experience. When Black citizens had no voice, the crusading Black Press shaped the foundations of landmark legislation on voting rights, desegregation, and the civil rights movement. The Black Press sought to unite, educate, inspire, and uplift a disenfranchised community. Today we celebrate the efforts of the extraordinary people who redefined journalism. Theirs is an enduring legacy that remains relevant, especially when news channels propagate singular narratives and notions of the ‘other.’
History of Black Press Day
In 1827, a group of prominent African Americans gathered in the home of Bostin Crummell. Their objective was to discuss amplifying the myriad socio-economic and political challenges that Black communities faced in the country. The collective Black expression came through the church or other social organizations until then. It was clear this wasn’t enough, and systemic discrimination needed larger platforms to foster long-lasting change. But these platforms were out of reach for Black citizens. Black communities had no access to the media or newspapers. It was routine for some elements of the established press to attack and belittle African Americans in print. Major papers refused to run Black obituaries, let alone any major stories impacting the community. The public media questioned the integrity of a race without giving its people a voice, the right to speak for themselves.
On March 16, 1827, Reverend Samuel Cornish and John Russwurm started the “Freedom’s Journal,” the first newspaper produced by Black Americans. The newspaper’s first issue made its mandate clear: “Too long have others spoken for us …We wish to plead our own cause.” It was the beginning of monumental change. By the time of the Civil War, there were 40 Black newspapers in publication. When major papers ignored Black realities during the 1920s and 1930s, the Black Press stepped up and then some. Black-run publications reported job opportunities in companies that didn’t discriminate. The papers soon became outlets for expression, and sports, politics, and money news considered the perspective of Black readers.
Additionally, society pages published uplifting, dignified stories of thriving African Americans leading high-quality lives. Fiery editorials advocated voting rights, fair employment, housing, and quality schools. These demands would later set the stage for school desegregation, the 1957 Voting Rights Bill, and the Civil Rights Legislation in 1964. Over the years, the Black Press has featured the works of America’s leading activists, including W.E.B DuBois, Zora Neale Hurston, Langston Hughes, Frederick Douglass, and Ida B. Wells Barnett. In 1941, representatives from 22 publications decided to form the National Negro Publishers Association (N.N.P.A.). Today, the N.N.P.A., now the National Newspaper Publishers Association, comprises over 200 Black newspapers in the United States and the Virgin Islands.
Black Press Day timeline
The “Freedom’s Journal” empowers Black communities to tell their stories in their own voices.
Robert L. Vann, publisher of the “Courier,” helps Black voters break traditional ties with the Republican Party in favor of Democratic candidate Franklin D. Roosevelt for President.
A campaign against racism at home and Hitler abroad first appears in the Pittsburgh Courier, setting high standards for wartime news coverage.
Gunnar Myrdal’s ground-breaking study says the Black Press is the most influential institution for African Americans.
Black Press Day FAQs
What was the goal of Black Press?
The Black Press comprised citizens, journalists, political pundits, and activists from different walks of life. Their objective was to promote civil rights and speak truth to power on racism.
When did the Black Press begin?
The Black Press began in 1827 when an African American group of New Yorkers decided not to tolerate the constant denigration of the Black population in the mainstream press. They founded the “Freedom’s Journal.”
What are the top five Black newspapers?
Founded in 1884, the “Philadelphia Tribune” is the oldest and largest newspaper for the African-American community. “The Los Angeles Sentinel,” the “Jackson Advocate,” the “Michigan Chronicle,” and the “Chicago Defender” are other excellent publications.
How to Observe Black Press Day
Read a Black newspaper
To be well-informed, we must consider multiple perspectives. Ditch mainstream news today for first-hand accounts from Black citizens.
Watch “Soldiers Without Swords”
The award-winning documentary captures the history of the Black Press. It’s a gripping film about editors, reporters, and photographers working at the frontlines to give voice to a disenfranchised community.
Support a Black newspaper
Courageous, independent journalism depends on readers and supporters. Advertise in or subscribe to a Black-owned newspaper today.
5 Facts About Frederick Douglass That Will Blow Your Mind
Battled illiteracy against all odds
A young Douglass bartered bread with white children in his neighborhood to learn how to read books.
Called out a former slave-owner
Years after his escape, Douglass founded a publication called “The North Star” and penned a groundbreaking piece addressed to a former owner, Thomas Auld.
The most photographed American
Douglass had more portraits than Walt Whitman or Abraham Lincoln, icons of the 19th century.
He refused to celebrate Independence Day
Douglass saw no reason to celebrate until all his people were free.
Nominated for U.S. Vice President
In 1872, Douglass was nominated as a V.P. candidate on the Equal Rights Party ticket, with Victoria Woodhull as the first-ever female presidential candidate.
Why Black Press Day is Important
It highlights the dangers of single truths
News can be biased and cater to mainstream narratives. We must always analyze the source and agenda behind any news story to get to the truth.
It honors legacy
The road to equality is a long one still, and yet easier for the efforts and sacrifices of people who came before us. Black Press Day preserves and continues their legacy.
It dismantles prejudice
Awareness of different realities can change people’s long-standing beliefs and prejudices. Alternative, credible news sources are a fantastic starting point to dismantle prejudice and remove the blinkers from people’s eyes.
Black Press Day dates