The Black Press in Mississippi, 1865-1985

The Black Press in Mississippi, 1865-1985

The Black Press in Mississippi, 1865-1985

The Black Press in Mississippi, 1865-1985


In spite of the historical conditions of poverty, illiteracy, and fear that have prevailed in Mississippi, blacks in the state have struggled to create a viable press that would record their world view. From Reconstruction to the present, the black press has been a major institution in the effort to secure freedom and equality. This work, the first complete treatment of the journalism experience of blacks in a single state, documents all the known examples of the black press in Mississippi from 1865 to 1985, including newspapers, newsletters, magazines, and radio and television. Born during slavery - when blacks exchanged information through music, myth, and religion - and growing out of necessity during the Civil War, the black press in Mississippi developed into a conservative, marginally relevant institution by the turn of the century. Julius Thompson examines its period of vigorous growth in the twenties, its decline during the depression, and its precarious balance in the 1960s: if black press publications and reporters appeared to be too conservative, the civil rights movement denounced them; if they appeared to be too radical, the police, Ku Klux Klan, and White Citizens' Council abused them, sometimes with arson, bombings, or beatings. All black journalists had reason to fear the state's Sovereignty Commission, which could and did curb and coerce the press. Though more black newspapers existed in the state in the 1960s than at any time since the twenties, the decade of struggle took its toll. With the death of Martin Luther King and the freedom movement's geographic shift to the North, the era gave way to disillusionment in the seventies. The black press in Mississippi continuesto struggle, week by week, to stay afloat, Thompson says, while the white press - competing successfully for advertising dollars - maintains a generally conservative stance on the social, political, and economic matters of


Since the period of American Reconstruction, Afro-Americans in Mississippi have produced several hundred newspapers, more than fifty magazines and journals, and hundreds of pamphlets, newsletters, and other related press materials. Given the historical conditions of poverty, illiteracy, and fear that prevailed in Mississippi from the era of slavery to the end of the twentieth century, two questions emerge: why were blacks in Mississippi able to create a viable black press institution in the state, and how did they accomplish it? in this study, I explore these phenomena and the relationship of the black press in Mississippi to the economic, political, and social conditions of the Afro-American people in the state from 1865 to 1985.

This work examines six major topics on the black press in Mississippi: development; content; advertising; economics of publishing; role in politics, economic affairs, and social conditions; and radio and television. I examine the needs of the Mississippi black community over time, at least as seen by the members of the black press (reporters, editors, announcers, and publishers) from the 1860s to the mid-1980s.

In chapter 1, I review the historical background of Mississippi's black press from 1865 to 1939. During these years, in spite of great hardships, the state produced the largest number of black papers in its history. Yet the period also witnessed a great decline in black press outlets. the reasons for this growth and subsequent decline are juxtaposed against the changing nature of the black economic, social, and political conditions in Mississippi. in chapter 2, I continue this analysis with an emphasis on the role and nature of the Mississippi black press during World War II and the cold war period that followed. in chapters 3 and 4, I define the relationship between the press and the major black civil rights movements of the 1950s and 1960s. in chapters 5 and 6, I explore the post-movement era, 1970-85, and examine the multifold efforts of Mississippi's blacks to renew the press's earlier strengths.

The literature on the black press in the United States is weak, especially in books. the only essay on Mississippi was written by me and appeared in Henry Lewis Suggs, ed., The Black Press in the South (1983). the best book-length studies on the history of the black press in the United States are I. Garland Penn's The Afro-American Press and Its Editors . . .

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