The History of the Black Newspaper

February 25, 2021

Freedom’s Journal, considered the first African American newspaper published within the United States.

The history of the Black newspaper in the United States is as rich and long as our own. They have served to tell the story of our Black history in our own words, by our own people. They have been our voice in times when it seemed we had none, and have presented a positive and accurate image of the African American as an individual and as a community.

Black newspapers (also known as the Black press or African American newspapers) are news publications in the United States serving African American communities. Samuel Cornish and John Brown Russwurm started the first African American periodical called Freedom’s Journal in 1827. During the antebellum South, other African American newspapers sprang forth, such as The North Star founded in 1847 by Frederick Douglass.

As African Americans moved to urban centers around the country, virtually every large city with a significant African-American population soon had newspapers directed towards African Americans. These newspapers gained audiences outside African American circles. In the 21st century, papers (like newspapers of all sorts) have shut down, merged, or shrunk in response to the dominance of the Internet in terms of providing free news and information, and providing cheap advertising.


Most of the early African American publications, such as Freedom’s Journal, were published in the North and then distributed, often covertly, to African Americans throughout the country. By the 20th century, daily papers appeared in Norfolk, Chicago, Baltimore and Washington, D.C..

19th century

Some notable black newspapers of the 19th century were Freedom’s Journal (1827– 29), Philip Alexander Bell’s Colored American (1837–41), the North Star (1847–60), the National Era, The Frederick Douglass Paper (1851–63), the Douglass Monthly (1859–63), The Christian Recorder (1861– 1902), and Daniel Rudd’s Ohio Tribune (later renamed to American Catholic Tribune, 1885-1897).

In the 1860s, the newspapers The Elevator and the Pacific Appeal emerged in California as a result of black participation in the Gold Rush.

In 1885, Daniel Rudd formed the Ohio Tribune, said to be the first newspaper “printed by and for Black Americans”, the Ohio Tribune— which he later expanded into the American Catholic Tribune, purported to be the first Black-owned national newspaper.

“The American Freedman” was a New York-based paper that served as an outlet to inspire African Americans to use the Reconstruction period as a time for social and political advancement. This newspaper did so by publishing articles that reference African- American mobilization during the Reconstruction period that had not only local support but had gained support from the global community as well.

The national Afro-American Press Association formed in 1890 in Indianapolis.

20th century

African American newspapers flourished in the major cities, with publishers playing a major role in politics and business affairs. Representative leaders included Robert Sengstacke Abbott (1870–1940) and John H. Sengstacke (1912–1997) publishers of the Chicago Defender; John Mitchell, Jr. (1863–1929), editor of the Richmond Planet and president of the National Afro-American Press Association; Anthony Overton (1865–1946), publisher of the Chicago Bee, Garth C. Reeves, Sr. (1919- 2019), Publisher Emeritus of the Miami Times and Robert Lee Vann (1879–1940), the publisher and editor of the Pittsburgh Courier. In the 1940s the number of newspapers grew from 150 to 250.

During the 1930s and 1940s, the Black southern press both aided and, to an extent, hindered the equal payment movement of Black teachers in the southern United States. Newspaper coverage of the movement served to publicize the cause. However, the way in which the movement was portrayed, and those whose struggles were highlighted in the press, displaced Black women to the background of a movement they spearheaded. A woman’s issue, and a Black woman’s issue, was being covered by the press. However, reporting diminished the roles of the women fighting for teacher salary equalization and “diminished the presence of the teachers’ salary equalization fight” in national debates over equality in education.

The national, Chicago-based Associated Negro Press (1919–1964) was a news agency “with correspondents and stringers in all major centers of black population.”

There were many specialized black publications, such as those of Marcus Garvey and John H. Johnson. These men broke a wall that let black people into society. The Roanoke Tribune was founded in 1939 by Fleming Alexander, and recently celebrated its 75th anniversary. The Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder is Minnesota’s oldest black newspaper and the United States’ oldest ongoing minority publication, second only to The Jewish World.

21st century

Due to changes in the advertising industry many Black newspapers that began publishing in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s went out of business because they could not attract enough advertising. They were also victims of their own substantial efforts to eradicate racism and promote civil rights. As of 2002, about 200 Black newspapers remained. However, all was not doom and gloom. With the dawn of the Internet age and social media information was much easier to access from anywhere at any time. Publishing via the world wide web was also much more cost efficient and attracted different sources of advertisers. More and more black news websites emerged, most notably Black Voice News, The Grio, The Root, and Black Voices.