“No longer shall others speak for us.”
These are the words of the founders of the country’s first Black newspaper, Freedom’s Journal. In 1827 that declaration took a lot of courage. And it’s that same pluck Black newspapers have exhibited ever since.
Black newspapers — like most other “Black” institutions or entities — started because Black people were shut out of just about every aspect of American life. Universities, professional organizations, clubs, fraternities and sororities.
Freedom’s Journal began publication March 30, 1827, in New York City. Slavery still existed at this time, but the free Blacks in the North didn’t see themselves in the newspapers of the day. Mundane things such as births and deaths or even accomplishments of Black people weren’t covered in white newspapers. Black people didn’t exist, and if we did exist and receive coverage, it was negative. So, being the resourceful people that we are, we created our own. For us by us — that’s been the motto of Black people well before Daymond John and company created FUBU.
From its early days of publication, abolition of slavery was a cause the Freedom’s Journal championed. In the tradition of the Freedom’s Journal, Ida B. Wells took up the cause of abolition and led an anti-lynching crusade after men she knew were lynched. Wells was born into slavery. She also experienced a brutal beating on a train because she refused to give up her first-class seat. She sued and won a settlement of $500. However, the Tennessee Supreme Court overturned the decision. She went on to own newspapers, Memphis Free Speech and Headlight, and Free Speech.
So, activism is part of the legacy of the Black Press. We were created to fight for social justice for Black people. While we’re taught in J-school to be fair, balanced, accurate, unbiased and objective flies on the wall just observing the news, members of the Black Press know we have a duty to be more than that. We have a duty to hold America accountable for the promises made to all citizens while also accurately reporting the news and being balanced in our reporting because, let’s face it, the news has rarely ever been unbiased and objective — especially when it comes to us.
If we weren’t excluded from the white press, i.e., mainstream press, there would’ve been no need to start the Black Press. Even a cursory look at newspapers throughout history shows the papers were of the times — racist and anti-Black. In January 2019, the Orlando Sentinel apologized for the racist role it played in coverage of the Groveland Four, four Black men wrongly accused of raping a white woman in 1949. In September 2020, the Los Angeles Times apologized for its racist past. I could go on, but you get the point.
It’s knowing what I know about journalism, in general, and the Black Press, specifically, that I rolled my eyes and let out a heavy sigh as I read about a recent incident in Oklahoma where a spokeswoman for the governor refused to respond to a reporter at The Black Wall Street Times, calling the reporter an “activist pretending to be a reporter.” For those who know about Tulsa, Oklahoma, the entire community of Greenwood, known as Black Wall Street, was destroyed in what is now known as the Tulsa Race Massacre. The 100-year commemoration is forthcoming, and reporter Sarah Gray had a question for Gov. Kevin Stitt regarding his involvement with the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission.
His director of communications, Carly Atchison, responded: “Hi Sarah, thanks for reaching out but our policy is to respond to journalists, not activists pretending to be reporters. Good luck!” Oh, Carly wasn’t done. She later tweeted, “I stand by what I said. If you want to be taken seriously and treated with respect, that goes both ways. Name calling, RTing (retweeting) bad memes, and crying out ‘White Supermacy!’ (when the Gov is Cherokee) every time there’s disagreement on policy is NOT journalism, it’s activism.”
Oh Carly, honey, you tried it.
I know you were probably super proud of yourself, but you look and sound stupid. You clearly don’t know the history or understand the role of the Black Press. We are advocates, activists and journalists. Sarah and I stand on the shoulders of greatness, using our skills as a journalist for the betterment of our people and our country.