Book Reviews -- the Early Black Press in America, 1827 to 1860 by Frankie Hutton

Article excerpt

The U.S. black press has been woefully underresearched by mass communications historians, and the problem has been compounded by the fact that much of the research has been shallow and/or biased. It simply is not dependable. Thus, it is of note when a study appears, such as Frankie Hutton's The Early Black Press in America, 1827 to 1860. While the book is not without flaws, it provides solid, important data that advances our knowledge of a significant era in American history.

In looking at the first 33 years of the black press, Hutton's goal is revisionist: to show that these newspapers had more than the one unifying theme emphasized by other historians--the abolition of slavery. They also were designed, she notes, "to uplift and vindicate people of color in the true spirit of American democracy." Thus, the black press wrote regularly about women, soirees and style, social morality, and youth and offered advice to readers on how to succeed in what was generally an unfriendly, discouraging environment. She convincingly documents all of this.

In pointing out these topics, Hutton has not just added to our knowledge of the nineteenth century--she also has rendered an important service for twentieth-century historians. Anyone examining black papers during their peak of power in the World War II era, for example, cannot ignore the fact that while the press had changed greatly since the 1800s in terms of its news function, it was still playing up the same topics as 100 years before. …