“We wish to plead our own cause. Too long have others spoken for us, too long has the public been deceived by misrepresentations…”
These were the words that boldly appeared in the first issue on the front page of the first African-American owned and operated newspaper that was published in the United States.
THE BLACK PRESS
The Freedom’s Journal, founded by editors Samuel Cornish and John B. Russwurm, was published weekly in New York City from 1827 to 1829.
Cornish and Russwurm believed that many of the other newspapers in New York City misrepresented blacks and that Freedom’s Journal would be the alternative to those papers that grossly distorted African-Americans. They believed that people were being given ignorance and lies instead of the truth and believed that Freedom’s Journal would change the perception of black people in society.
The Freedom’s Journal went beyond racism, seeking to strengthen the bonds in all African-American communities and challenging African-Americans to be conscious of their position in a white-dominated society. Freedom’s Journal provided international, national, and regional information on current events and contained editorials declaiming slavery, lynching, and other injustices. The Journal also published biographies of prominent African-Americans and listings of births, deaths, and marriages in the African-American New York community. Freedom’s Journal circulated in 11 states, the District of Columbia, Haiti, Europe, and Canada.
THE BLACK CHURCH
Can you believe that following slave revolts in the early 19th century, states like Virginia and others passed a law requiring black congregations to meet only in the presence of a white minister?
Many black slaves didn’t want to be constrained to having a white minister oversee them and justify slavery in the process. Black congregations began to grow rapidly and their members, most of whom were slaves, numbered several hundred each before the Civil War, with most being led by free blacks.
In plantation areas, slaves organized underground churches and hidden religious meetings called the “invisible church”. Slaves were free to mix evangelical Christianity with their African roots, African beliefs and African rhythms. They turned Methodist hymns into what are now called Negro spirituals, which gave the church members a secret way to communicate and, in some cases, to plan rebellion.
It is through the black church that black slaves were provided psychological refuge from the white world that treated them inhumanely and unjustly.
After the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, Northern churches, mostly founded by free blacks, sent missions to the South to minister to newly freed slaves, including teaching them how to read and write.
Black preachers provided leadership, encouraged education and economic growth, and were often the primary link between the black and white communities. The black church established and/or maintained the first black schools and encouraged community members to fund these schools and other public services. For most black leaders, the churches always were connected to political goals of advancing the race and moving forward.
Both the black church and the black press were catalysts behind the advancement of African-Americans beyond the unjust laws and challenges they were facing.
The black church held an important leadership role, as their strength within the black community made them natural leaders in the moral struggle for social justice. Notable leaders such as Martin Luther King, Jr., Ralph David Abernathy and Fred Shuttlesworth, to name a few, were instrumental minister-activists who helped during the struggle and often served as links between the black and white communities.
By the end of the 1930s, black newspapers had reached new heights of circulation and influence and were tested during World War II, when the United States government decided to flex their muscles against them because of their influence.
In the PBS film, “The Black Press: Soldiers Without Swords”, the narrator shares how James Thompson, a black cafeteria worker from Wichita, Kansas, suggested in a letter to The Pittsburgh Courier that African Americans should use the war overseas to press for change in their own backyard.
In the film, a voice over of Thompson states, “Should I sacrifice my life to live half- American? Will things be better for the next generation in the peace to follow? Let me colored Americans adopt the Double V for the double victory. The first V for victory over our enemies from without. The second V for victory over our enemies from within.”
The black press got behind this Double V campaign and was so effective that in 1942, J. Edgar Hoover presented Attorney General Francis Biddle with lengthy reports on what he saw as seditious activity by the African American press, asking Biddle to indict a group of publishers for treason.
John Sengstacke, publisher of the Chicago Defender, had a meeting with Biddle where he boldly told him, “What are we supposed to do about it? These are facts and we aren’t gonna stop. That’s what it’s all about.” He declared, “That’s what the black press is all about, protecting blacks in this country.”
As the war ended, the campaign for equality at home and abroad had pushed the combined circulation of black newspapers for a record high of two million papers a week. But victory at home had yet to be won. The black press was a catalyst behind the success of the Civil Rights Movement.
NEW MOVEMENT NEEDED
As we look at the state of black America, we see that if ever there was a need for another movement, it is now.
On May 18, 2012, 7:00 pm, the Houston Forward Times is presenting its’ 1st annual 2012 Visionary Pastor’s Awards at the George R. Brown Convention Center, in the General Assembly Theater. The theme is the “The Black Church and the Black Press-Power to Influence.”
Influential black pastors in Houston will be honored by an influential member of the black press in Houston at this black-tie event sponsored by Wells Fargo, Cadillac, United Airlines, Music World Gospel, and the City of Houston.
The visionary pastors’ honorees are Bishop I. V. Hilliard, New Light Christian Center; Pastor Manson Johnson, Holman Street Baptist; Pastor Remus Wright, Fountain of Praise; Pastor Harvey Clemons, Pleasant Hill Baptist; Pastor Gusta Booker, Greater St. Matthews; Pastor Rudy Rasmus, St. Johns United Methodist; Pastor Ralph West, Church Without Walls; Pastor Walter August, The Church at Bethel’s Family; Bishop Prince E. W. Bryant, Sr., Island of Hope; and Bishop James Dixon, Community of Faith.
The Pastors being inducted into the Hall of Fame are Rev. J. J. Roberson, Pastor Emeritus, Mount Hebron Baptist; Rev. C. L. Jackson, Pleasant Grove Missionary Baptist; Rev. C. W. Kimble, Pastor Emeritus Good Hope Baptist; Rev. A. Louis Patterson, Mount Corinth Missionary Baptist; Dr. S. J. Gilbert, Pastor Emeritus Mt. Sinai; and Bishop A. C. Nelson, Memorial COGIC.
The hosts of the show are Music World recording artists Vanessa Bell Armstrong and Brian Courtney Wilson and they will perform on the show. The musical director of the show is V. Michael McKay who is a two-time Dove Award winner and is inducted into the Gospel Hall of Fame. Confirmed performers are legendary national gospel recording artist Lady Tramaine Hawkins; 2012 Grammy Award winner and Music World Gospel artist Le’ Andria Johnson; violinist Omar Lopez; Holman Street’s “God’s Silent Voices” mime group; and the Houston Mass Choir.
The black church and the black press must come together to right the wrongs in our communities and be the voice for the voiceless.