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African-American newspapers came into existence before the Civil War as a medium of expression of abolitionist sentiment. In 1827, Samuel Cornish and John B. Russwarm started the first African-American periodical, called Freedom's Journal. Freedom's Journal initiated the trend of African-American papers throughout the United States to fight for liberation and rights, demonstrate racial pride, and inform readers of events affecting the African-American community. Unfortunately, because the African-Americans able to support the paper and the white abolitionists were few, the paper ended its circulation in 1830. Also, during the antebellum South, other African-American newspapers came about. One of these, the North Star, founded by Frederick Douglass, had the same fate as Freedom's Journal.
As African-Americans migrated from fields to urban centers, virtually every large city with a significant African-American population soon had African-American newspapers. Examples were the Chicago Defender, Detroit Tribune, the Pittsburgh Courier, and the (New York) Amsterdam News. While it was certainly important for African-American newspapers to report the news of the day, it was not their primary purpose. Most cities already had daily newspapers that were aimed to the general public. The idea of an African-American newspaper was to give African-Americans the news through the lens of their own eyes.
To learn about African-American newspapers in the area where your ancestor lived, see:
- Henritze, Barbara K. Bibliographic Checklist of African American Newspapers. Baltimore, Md.: Genealogical Publishing Company, 1995. FHL Book 973 F23hb. 5539 titles are identified, including 348 in New York, 337 in Mississippi, 336 in Georgia, 191 in Virginia, and 41 in West Virginia.
- Pinnick, Timothy N. Finding and Using African American Newspapers. The Gregath Publishing Company, 2008. ISBN: 978-0-944619-85-8.
From an economic perspective, African-American newspapers were formed in order to make a profit. According to a study of early African-American newspapers, the "primary motivation" of African-American newspaper proprietors was "not uplift, but profit." In addition, from a social standpoint, these newspapers were a source of pride for the African-American community and a focal point for African-Americans to stick together and fight the constant oppression they were under. Taking this into account, it seems apparent that it was most beneficial for African-American newspaper editors to be motivated by both uplift and profit.
In the United States today, it is not uncommon for cities to have a variety of newspapers (printed in a variety of languages) that are aimed at specific racial, ethnic, and religious groups. Because large newspapers tend to cover the news that would be of interest to the majority (and thus not the minority) of people, it is easy to see why people of diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds would be interested in hearing about events from people who might see the world with the same cultural lens as themselves.
Runaway slave advertisements
During the slavery period owners often advertised in newspapers about their runaway and fugitive slaves in hopes that citizens, or bounty hunters would would find and return their "property" usually for a reward. In some cases sheriffs advertised runaways being held in county jails. Many of these kinds of advertisements have been compiled and indexed. For an example of this kind of publication, see—
- Lathan A. Windley, Runaway Slave Advertisements: a Documentary History from the 1730s to 1790, 4 v. (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1983). Contents: Vol. 1. Virginia and North Carolina -- v. 2. Maryland -- v. 3. South Carolina -- v. 4. Georgia.
It is difficult to find an ancestor in runaway slave advertisements. In order to use these records you need to know the name of the slave, and it is also important to know the owner's name to help identify the correct slave. It would also help to know where the owner lived in order to determine if there are nearby newspapers with compiled runaway slave advertisements. There were many newspapers in which owners could have advertised, so coverage is spotty.
- ↑ John Frederick Dorman, "Review of Bibliographic Checklist of African American Newspapers," in The Virginia Genealogist, Vol. 39, No. 1 (Jan.-Mar. 1995):73-74.