Black Newspapers & America's War for Democracy, 1914-1920

Article excerpt

Jordan, William G. Black Newspapers & America's War for Democracy, 1914-1920. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001. 241 pp. $18.95.

Last summer, I got an email from a law professor at a Southern university who was researching a book and wanted to know if anything had been written that would give him a good overview of the black press during World War I. I replied that he should look at William G. Jordan's recently published Black Newspapers & America's War for Democracy, 1914-- 1920. Several days later, he emailed me back that he had purchased the book and thanked me profusely. He said it was "exactly" what he needed.

I suspect that Jordan, who teaches history and is the advisor to the student newspaper at Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire, will be complimented a lot for his book. And he should be. Quite simply, this is by far the most thorough, scholarly treatment of the black press during World War I and the Red Scare era that followed. While experienced scholars of the black press will not find anything startlingly new in it, they will be treated to an exceptionally well written, in-depth look at the six-year period that unquestionably will yield some nuggets of information of which they are unaware. Furthermore, the twelve-- page "Select Bibliography" is easily worth the price of admission, so to speak, by itself.

Jordan begins his book with what he calls "fundamental questions" that he applies from 1914 to 1920: "How and in what situations have African Americans used words in their newspapers as weapons of defense or And how effective have these weapons been?" To answer those questions, he did a "close reading" of six leading weekly black newspapers (Chicago Defender, Cleveland Gazette, New York Age, Richmond Planet, Savan1nah Tribune and Baltimore Afro-American) as well as a "less systematic sampling" of eight other weekly black papers. He also examined the Crisis, the monthly organ of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. …