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The Power of the Press: African-American News Publications in the Jim Crow Era

Overview of the African-American Press:

Throughout United States history, the press has played a significant role in social conflicts and political events. In the African-American community, newspapers played a vital role in fighting racism and social injustice.

As early as 1827, writers John B. Russwurm and Samuel Cornish published the Freedoms Journal for the freed African-American community. Freedoms Journal was also the first African-American news publication.

Following in Russwurm and Cornishs footsteps, abolitionists such as  Frederick Douglass and Mary Ann Shadd Cary published newspapers to campaign against enslavement. 

Following the Civil War, African-American communities throughout the United States desired a voice that would not only expose injustices, but also celebrate everyday events such as weddings, birthdays, and charity events. Black newspapers cropped up in southern towns and northern cities. Below are three are the most prominent papers during the Jim Crow Era. 

Robert S. Abott published the first edition of The Chicago Defender with an investment of twenty-five cents. He used his landlord’s kitchen to print copies of the paper—a collection of news clippings from other publications and Abott’s own reporting.

By 1916, The Chicago Defender boasted a circulation of more than 15,000 and was considered one of the best African-American newspapers in the United States. The news publication went on to have a circulation of over 100,000, a health column and a full page of comic strips.

From the outset, Abbott employed yellow journalistic tactics-sensational headlines and dramatic news accounts of African-American communities throughout the nation.

The tone of the paper was militant and referred to African-Americans, not as black or negro but as the race. Graphic images of lynchings, assaults and other acts of violence against African-Americans were published prominently in the paper. As an initial supporter of The Great Migration, The Chicago Defender published train schedules and job