Michigan Chronicle publisher, Cathy Nedd continues the long tradition of making sure black newspapers are one of the major voices of the African American community. She and other Black Press publishers are invested in telling the stories that white, mainstream media habitually ignores.
As the founder and director of the Black Press Research Collective (BPRC), I regularly get emails from people across the United States requesting assistance with accessing Black newspaper archives. Therefore, when I checked my email recently and observed a message that came through the BPRC site, I expected the standard request for help. However, I was surprised to receive a message from Jonathan Dickson informing me that his father, the former owner and publisher of the Birmingham World had recently passed away. It was a brief message, but, nonetheless, incredibly powerful. With the simple statement, “Just wanted to inform you that the link to the Birmingham World is not valid and that my father Joe Dickson the Owner and Publisher has passed away,” Mr. Dickson reminded me why I started the Black Press Research Collective five years ago. My goal was two-fold: First, I wanted to make sure that significance of the history of the Black Press was not lost to new generations of students and scholars. Second, I believed that developing a portal for historical and contemporary Black newspapers would help people easily identify and access them. Over the past two years, my initial goals have fallen by the wayside. Teaching obligations and requirements for tenure took me away from the BPRC. However, Mr. Dickson’s message and his desire to make sure his father’s important work and legacy is widely shared inspired me to return to the BPRC with my initial passion and commitment to recovering the history of the Black Press and the many individuals who dedicated their lives to maintaining the tradition of Black journalism. In so doing, I am honored to share the life and work of Joe Dickson.
Former owner and publisher of the Birmingham World newspaper, Joe Dickson, who demonstrated with civil rights heroes Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth and Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. during the Civil Rights Movement before going on to become a part of former Gov. Guy Hunt’s administration and the chair of the Alabama Personnel Board, has died at age 85.
As a black child in Birmingham in the 1940s, Joe Dickson was arrested by white police officers while playing with a toy gun. He was 10. It was part of a pattern he saw all around him of black people being treated unfairly by white authorities who enforced strict segregation laws and customs in Alabama.
The New Journal and Guide was formed in 1900. By World War II, it was the largest black employer in the South. 118 years after its founding, it follows the same mission of informing and empowering the African-American community, while tackling the challenges of the new media age. Produced/directed/shot by Daja E.
Posted on Paul Delaney, a veteran print journalist, spent 23 years with The New York Times as an editor, reporter, and foreign correspondent. He began his career at two black-owned newspapers, the Baltimore Afro-American and the Atlanta Daily World, before moving on to a succession of other newspapers, including the Dayton Daily News in Ohio and the now-closed Washington Star.
It was interesting to hear Actress Meryl Streeps make comments at the Golden Globe Award defending the press. After talking and making remarks about the situation that occurred between then Presidential candidate Donald Trump and a reporter, Streep said. “Disrespect invites disrespect. Violence incites violence,” she continued.
The oldest Black business industry in America began 190 years ago today. On March 16, 1827, the first edition of the Freedom’s Journal was published, thrusting African Americans into the bustling publishing business. At the time, Blacks in America weren’t even considered citizens, most were slaves and forbidden to read or write.
When Muhammad Ali passed away the early morning of June 3, 2016 – surrounded by friends and family, as conflicting news reports of his rapidly deteriorating condition circulated on social media and broadcast news stations – journalists from nearly every corner of the world paused to assess his legacy. Newspapers from around the country, including Ali’s hometown newspaper in Louisville, Ky., the New York Times, and just about every other major U.S. urban daily, and newspapers from as far afield as London, Berlin, Istanbul, Taipei all commemorated on their front pages the “People’s Champion.”
In the weeks after his death, glossy commemorative special editions of Rolling Stone, Sports Illustrated, People, Time, USA Today, and Life crystallized Ali’s legacy through compelling visual narratives that more often than not depicted Ali before he was “Ali” – in 1964, when he was Cassius Clay, twenty-two years old, strikingly handsome, smiling. Having only moments before knocked out Sonny Liston for the heavyweight title, shouting at ringside “I must be the greatest!” as if everyone watching did not already know. Before he was “draft dodger” Muhammad Ali, stripped of his title and demonized by the American press who refused to call him by his Muslim name.
These tributes depicted young Ali as gregarious, egotistical, and outspoken. “Brash,” “boastful,” “brutal when he had to be” are just some of the descriptors that People used to describe him. “People reviled him, even scorned him. Some even feared him,” began Rolling Stone’s Mikal Gilmore. Later in his life, Ali was recast as softer and more approachable, and the narrative focus shifted to his humanitarian work – which was the focus of Politico’s stirring photo tribute – and battle with Parkinson’s Disease. These tributes superficially addressed his conviction and subsequent ban only in the context of a great American comeback story, much like the one described in Sports Illustrated’s “Muhammad Ali, The Tribute” and even Robert Lipsyte’s “Ali: The Greatest, “ published in Time’s commemorative edition. These celebratory narratives are attractive even if they fall short in reflecting the tumultuous racial landscape against which Ali rose to both fame and infamy. Ali’s charisma, which was as prevalent in private moments captured spontaneously as it was when he was posturing in front of a swarm of journalists, made him irresistible. Ali was, to quote GQ’s Peter Richmond, a “national treasure.”
Commemorative journalism is ritualistic. It allows us, as a society, to come together and collectively mourn for a figure that we may not have know personally, but with whom through media have formed strong parasocial ties over the years. When ESPN televised Ali’s funeral I cried on my couch as if I had lost a family member. Through commemoration, public figures become venerated, as journalists provide as narrative closure their ultimate contribution to society. For Ali, the one “who would never stay down, no matter what,” his major contribution was resilience – against his opponents, the government, Parkinson’s disease. Because he rose again and again, clearly, so have “we.”
I have previously discussed the symbolic power of “celebrity” for Black communities during the long struggle towards civil rights, arguing that Black press urban weeklies, in conjunction with W.E.B. Du Bois’s the Crisis glossy magazine joined later by Jet, Ebony, and Essence, provided the staging ground for conceptualizing Black-centered celebrity. I have also argued that mere publicity of Black celebrities was not sufficient for those citizens “living behind the veil.” Black-centered celebrity culture was defined not by public admiration and aspiration to upward social mobility (as was the case with Hollywood’s “star system”) but rather by an activist ethos shaped by American racism.
Ali was a civil rights activist. Tony Norman’s June 7 tribute reminds readers that “Mr. Ali’s outspokenness was so refreshing to millions of Black Americans — he modeled a compelling voice of dignity and defiance, especially in those early years following Martin Luther King’s assassination.” Norman, writing in the context of his childhood in 1960s West Philadelphia, recasts Ali as not the universal hero but as a racially transgressive figure, unafraid to “sass” Whites during a period of widespread institutionalized hatred and violence against Black Americans. Gillian B. White’s tribute to Ali and her father’s admiration of him in The Atlantic similarly repositions Ali as a symbol of Black American identity.
With the well-documented demise of Black-centered media companies, it has become increasingly difficult to find voices that shape and interpret the lasting legacy of Black-centered celebrity in the context of the Black Lives Matter movement. Black press newspapers and magazines have suffered a precipitous decline over the past 50 years as advertisers have found new ways to reach Black audiences and media conglomeration has pushed alternative and niche media companies to the fringes. The recent sale of Ebony and Jet magazines by Johnson Publishing has left two of the nation’s strongest and most revered Black publications with uncertain futures. To wit, journalistic voices that belong to people of color become chilled – there are very few mainstream publications with representative numbers of Black or Brown journalists, editors, or photographers. The whitewashing of Ali in journalistic commemoration upon his death is indicative of the lack of independent voices of color in shaping these commemorative narratives.
Through commemoration Ali has been transformed into a universal figure whom we as a culture can now, in the vast gulf between the living and the dead, safely define as the kind of American hero with which we feel most secure, a cipher through which we can make sense of (read: absolve ourselves of) years of racial acrimony.
With Ken Burns’ two-part Jackie Robinson PBS documentary looming this month, Negro-newspaper sportswriters will return to black America’s consciousness. The Negro press of 1945 to 1948 not only advocated for the desegregation of Major League Baseball but also, for Jackie Robinson’s and the race’s sake, became the de facto public relations wing of his team, the Brooklyn Dodgers, to make sure the “great experiment” succeeded.