Amidst last week’s annual convention of the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) Annual Convention in Portland, Oregon, I was reminded repeatedly that Black Americans have had a long, storied tradition of newspaper publishing. Since the first publication of Freedom’s Journal in 1827, Black American publishers have worked heroically to earn the title “Voice of Black America.” From the east coast to the west coast, in big cities and in small towns, NNPA publishers continue have a sustainable economic development impact within the heart of the Black American community.
For more than 187 years, the Black Press in America has stood courageously to articulate and print the news interests of Black America. But please do not take this history lightly or for granted.
We must never forget how the long struggle to attain the right to vote was “blood soaked” by the sacrifices and sufferings of civil rights leaders and activists.
Similarly, the historic struggle of Black Americans to engage in the enterprise of freedom of press has been also soaked with sacrificial blood, facing down lynch mobs, and enormous economic inequality challenges. There is a long list of Black newspapers in the U.S. that have been dynamited, deliberated destroyed and the target of successive arsons.
Through the storm
During the 1898, race massacre in Wilmington, N.C, the Daily Record was burned to the ground by 1,500 racist vigilantes who were angry at the audacity of Alexander Manly, the Black American publisher of the newspaper. Manly had written a bold editorial opposing the brutal and wanton patterns of unjust lynching of Black men and women in the state.
Sixty-five years later, the Wilmington Journal, published by Thomas C. Jervay, Sr. and family, was bombed with sticks of dynamite by a paramilitary group known as the Rights of White People (ROWP). Still, the Wilmington Journal never missed a week publishing. The Jervay family of Black-owned newspapers in Raleigh and in Wilmington emerged over the years to epitomize the history of moral integrity and high value of NNPA member publishers.
Why is it necessary?
Some ask why it is necessary to be reminded of the history of the Black Press. It is necessary because we cannot afford to be ignorant of our past if we intend to have a better future for generations to come. The Black Press is one of the most valuable assets that we have in our communities.
At the same time, there are enormous opportunities to advance the cause of freedom, justice and equality for Black America and for all people who yearn and struggle for a better quality of life.
Our struggle for freedom, justice and equality continues. I am optimistic about the future. We have been given the baton of history at a time when have some of best newspaper publishers, freedom-fighting journalists, business leaders, teachers, preachers, lawyers and other professionals, along with the most talented and gifted generation of youth that we have ever been blessed to witness.
Nothing can hold us back from winning but ourselves.
Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr. is the Interim President and CEO of the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA).