Tag Archives: Atlanta Daily World

Best of the Decade: Top Black Press Scholarship of the 2010s

December 30, 2019

Over the past month or so, there have been a spate of top ten rankings for the past decade. While rankings can be a bit reductive, they can be an incredibly useful device for highlighting important work in a field. Below are a list of 10 books (in no particular order) that offer transformative understandings of the role of the Black Press in the United States.

The Rise & Fall of of the Associated Negro Press (University of Illinois, 2017) By Gerald Horne.

Horne’s book is one of two scholarly book-length examinations of Claude Barnett and the Associated Negro Press (ANP). Focusing on Barnett’s Pan-Africanist work, Horne highlights the ANP’s role in fighting Jim Crow segregation and how this fight ultimately led to the demise of the ANP, one of Black America’s most important sources of news.

Black Radical (Liveright, 2019) By Kerri K. Greenidge

A top New York Timesbook pick, Black Radical chronicles the life of William Monroe Trotter and his paper the Guardian. Greenidge’s pioneering study calls well-needed attention to the ways that Trotter and his paper made Boston a site of black radical politics. In a skillfully written history, Greenidge expands our understanding of the early twentieth-century Black Press.

Eye on the Struggle (Amistad, 2015) By James McGrath Morris

Morris documents the life of journalist and civil rights activist, Ethel Payne. As the first African American woman to be included in the White House Press corps, Payne tireless wrote for the Chicago Defender and covered events such as the Korean War, Civil Rights movement and the Vietnam War. Morris weaves a comprehensive narrative of Payne’s life that offers deeper insight into African Americans’ struggle for social justice.

The Black Newspaper and the Chosen Nation (University of Georgia, 2016) By Benjamin Fagan

The Black Newspaper and the Chosen Nation is a groundbreaking study of the ways that the early Black Press cultivated the idea that African Americans were “chosen people” and that they played a vital role in black liberation and freedom throughout the world. Fagan explores this discourse in a variety of black newspapers, showing how it was central to the integration of faith into strategies for liberty.

Jam on the Vine (Grove Press, 2016) By LaShonda Katrice Barnett

Barnett’s historical fictional narrative of an African American woman journalist brings more attention to the under-examined contributions that Black women have made to the twentieth-century Black Press. Jam on the Vine is a beautifully written depiction of one black woman’s love for her people and the ways she uses black journalism to call attention to the injustice African Americans faced in the United States.

The Defender (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016) By Ethan Michaeli

Despite the well-known importance of the Chicago Defender, Michaeli’s book stands as the sole comprehensive examination of the paper. The Defender recounts the history of the paper and how it transformed African Americans’ lives and changed the course of American history. Recognized by the New York Times for his work, Michaeli sheds greater insight into what made the Chicago Defender, “The World’s Greatest Weekly.”

Black Print Unbound (Oxford, 2015) By Eric Gardner

Much of the scholarship on the Black Press concentrates on secular newspapers. Black Print Unbound is a powerful exception. Gardner explores the development of the Christian Recorder, the official African Methodist Episcopal Church Newspaper during and immediately after the American Civil War. Recovering unknown texts in the paper, Gardner shows how the Recorder and other black papers played an integral role in the creation of African American literary culture.

Let Us Make Men (University of North Carolina) By D’Weston Haywood

Haywood’s book, Let Us Make Men provides a showcase for the ways the Black Press cultivated and shaped black men’s leadership in the twentieth century. Arguing that the struggle for black manhood was synonymous with the fight for racial justice, Haywood deepens our understanding of what was at stake for black newspaper publishers during some of the most crucial times in African American history.

Alone atop the Hill (University of Georgia, 2015). By Carole McCabe Booker and Simeon Booker

While this book is a condensed version of the 1974 self-published autobiography of Alice Dunnigan, the first African American female correspondent to receive White House press credentials, it includes scholarly annotations that provide a deeper historical contextualization of Dunnigan’s life as a journalist. Carole McCabe Booker skillfully edits the memoir to highlight the ways Dunnigan’s work as the chief of the Washington Bureau at the Associated Negro Press provided critical political coverage on a national scale for the Black Press.

The Grapevine of the Black South (University of Georgia, 2018) By Thomas Aiello

Although the vast majority of black newspapers were founded in the South in late 19th century, many Black Press outlets had difficulty surviving in the face of the Jim Crow system. Aiello recovers a little known history of the Atlanta World and the Scott Newspaper Syndicate and demonstrates how it contributed to the development of the modern Civil Rights movement. Arguing that the Atlanta World helped black southerners build a collective identity, Aiello shows how the paper and its founders imagined developing a network of readers outside the South through the Scott Newspaper Syndicate.

The Price Is NOT Right: Selling Black Press Archives

In many ways Cornell University library’s purchase of the New York Amsterdam News’ archive is “old news.” Now over two years, since the sale, the guide for the collection was recently completed this past spring in April and can be found here.  However, like many other Black Press scholars and researchers of African American history, I was unaware of Cornell’s acquisition of this trove of images until I stumbled over the guide while conducting research on Amsterdam News’ society columnist, Gerri Majors (née Geraldyn Hodges-Dismond).  When I read the announcement I experienced the same emotions learning that Viacom had bought BETTime Inc. had purchased Essence Magazine  and  L’Oreal had acquired Carol’s Daughter’s.  The purchase of Black-owned businesses by white companies is, for me, always fraught with complexity.  While I am certainly in no position to judge any of these business decisions, it does give me pause to critically consider the implication of products, media and services produced for Black people that are now under the purview of white-dominated corporate interest.

In the case of the Amsterdam News, my feelings are even more mixed.  Black Press archives, as BPRC member, Moira Hinderer points out are vulnerable institutions.  Often underfunded and understaffed, Black newspapers have a difficult time preserving and curating archival records to tell their own histories.  In many cases, it’s up to concerned people and individual libraries to ensure that Black newspapers no longer being published are collected and preserved.  Sadly, the reality of staying afloat financially is the primary concern for most contemporary Black newspapers.  In this sense the Amsterdam News’ decision to sell their photo archive might be viewed as a practical one as the revenue garnered from the sale almost certainly provided financial relief for the company.

Yet, as a researcher I would be remiss in not expressing the sense of excitement I feel at having a guide to the archive and knowing that images from the Amsterdam News are readily available at an institution with the resources to preserve and maintain the collection.   I imagine that soon many of these photographs will be digitized and made available to the public.  Nonetheless, the acquisition of a Black newspaper archive does not always mean better public access.  We see this in the case of the Atlanta Daily World  archive which was purchased by Emory University in 2008.  According to the guide, the collection remains unprocessed and located at an off-site location, though the records appear to be available to researchers on request.

To be clear, Black newspapers are not the only papers choosing to sell their photo archives.  All contemporary newspapers live in tough times, where for many, each year they are able to stay alive is a gift.  Selling newspapers’ old photos can be quite lucrative.   Thus, I can certainly understand why newspapers sell their archives, though I wish that Black newspapers could find other ways to generate revenue.  In some cases, newspapers broker deals which allow them to retain copyright and the intellectual property of documents or photographs.  I can only hope this is true of the agreements the Amsterdam News and Daily World struck with Cornell and Emory.

Despite the financial benefits,  I can’t help but feel that a more appropriate place for the Amsterdam News and Daily World’s archival collections are at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture or the  Black Press Archives at the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center at Howard University  and at the Woodruff (AUC) Library Archives for Clark Atlanta University, Morehouse and Spelman Colleges.  Like the Black Press, the Schomburg, Moorland-Spingarn and Woodruff are venerable Black institutions which have been at the core of the African American and African Diapsoric experience in the United States.  Not only do these institutions possess a shared commitment to documenting and giving voice to the historical Black experience, they also continue to support contemporary Black newspapers and other Black organizations and businesses.

Ironically, the Black identity, which I argue makes these institutions ideal for African American newspaper archives, is what makes it difficult for them to obtain the records.    In short, the crux of the problem is that historically Black colleges and universities’ (HBCUs) libraries and research centers, relative to their white counter-parts, often lack the budgets necessary to first, acquire Black Press collections and second, to digitize and maintain them.  Thus, it is not a matter of lack of desire for these collections but rather fiscal capacity which prevents  Black institutions from acquiring them.  On the other hand, elite and predominantly white academic and public institutions, while to be congratulated for recognizing the significance of Black Press history, are further enriched by their procurement of Black Press collections.  Researchers’ use and grants from organizations such as the National Endowment for the Humanities to digitize and preserve the archive enhance institutions already flush with wealth.

Black organizations, then, the very institutions that stand the most to gain by maintaining and holding on to Black Press collections are unable to acquire or preserve them.  For this reason efforts must be made to ensure that Black Press archival collections continue to be held by either the newspapers themselves or other Black-owned and Black-controlled institutions.   A model for this proposition is the archives of the AFRO American Newspapers in Baltimore.   John “Jake” Oliver great-grandson of founder, John H. Murphy, Sr., CEO and current publisher of the paper is to be commended for his commitment to retaining control over the newspaper’s archives.  Run by archivist,  JaZette Marshburn, the AFRO archives have partnered with a variety of institutions and organizations including Johns Hopkins University, Project Gado and Google to digitize and make their archival collections available to the public while finding innovative ways to generate income.

In spite of the short-term financial gain that Black newspapers achieve through the sale of their archives, the long-term consequence of not controlling their own history and the loss of potential revenue down the road may not make the transaction worth the figurative and literal price.  Consequently, Black Press archives are left all the more poor when they choose to sell their collections.