The recent passing of Maya Angelou has offered many people the opportunity to reflect on her accomplished life. However, Angelou’s life also reminds us of the central role that the Black Press has played in recognizing the significance of African American artists and writers well before they are on the radar of many white publications. Black newspapers’ earliest coverage of Angelou featured advertisements and announcements of her vocal performances and singing group, the Angelou trio in papers like the Chicago Defender. In 1969, the New York Amsterdam News featured a brief article describing Angelou’s accomplishments and announced her famous book, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. According to the article, Angelou was “black, intelligent and proud” and an advocate of African Americans recognizing their Africana heritage. Soon after the publication of the Amsterdam News article Angelou would be featured in other papers, including white ones, as her literary and film work received critical acclaim. By the time Angelou read her famous poem, “On the Pulse of Morning” at the inauguration of President Bill Clinton in 1993, the American public (indeed the world) had no doubt that Angelou was a gifted artist. Nonetheless, the Black Press informed us that Angelou was always, first and foremost, a daughter of Africa and the African disapora before she became the people’s poet.
During the month of February we celebrate African American/Black history. The next month in March we follow with celebrations of women’s contributions to United States history. African American women’s experiences obviously overlap with both of these commemorative months. However, they are often missing from either. In the most classic sense, “African American” is often understood from a Black male’s viewpoint while “Woman” is deemed only valid through the lens of whiteness. For this reason the BPRC takes the time to celebrate Women’s History Month by featuring one of many contributions that African American women have made to the Black Press. The above video highlights Jackie Ormes, the first African American woman cartoonist whose work regularly appeared in the Chicago Defender and Pittsburgh Courier between 1937-1956. For more information on Ormes see http://www.jackieormes.com.
Visualizing the circulation of the Baltimore Afro-American (AFRO), Chicago Defender (Defender) and the Pittsburgh Courier (Courier) three of the biggest and best selling weekly national Black newspapers helps to fully highlight the significance of the Black Press in the early twentieth century.