Academic journal article Journalism History

John Edward Bruce: Politician, Journalist, and Self-Trained Historian of the African Diaspora

Academic journal article Journalism History

John Edward Bruce: Politician, Journalist, and Self-Trained Historian of the African Diaspora

Article excerpt

Crowder, Ralph L. John Edward Bruce: Politician, Journalist, and Self-Trained Historian of the African Diaspora. New York: New York University Press, 2004. 245 pp. $45.

Ralph L. Crowder's biography of John Edward Bruce (1856-1924) is an elucidating glimpse into a time when African American unity was not absolute, and when certain members of the black press fought a dual role against white tyranny and the rising of a bogus class of black leaders-mulattoes. As a "pure Negro," he and other darker-skinned, self-taught intellectuals of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries railed against the mulatto elites, who identified more with whites than the masses of uneducated, poor, working-class African Americans. His black nationalistic diatribe also pitted him against W.E.B. Du Bois, George Washington Carver, Booker T. Washington, and other universitytrained black intellectuals. Those stances and a conscientious desire to fight injustice, no matter the skin color of its perpetrator, fueled much of Bruce's journalism.

Bruce, who at 18 began his journalistic career as a helper in the New York Times' Washington bureau, is more than a footnote in the annals of black press history. Born into slavery on a Maryland plantation, he was the founder of several newspapers, including three Washington, D.C., publications, the Weekly Argus (1879-83), the Sunday Item (188083), and the Washington Grit (1883-84), as well as the editor of the Norfolk (Virginia) Republican. Most notable historically is the Sunday Item, which was the first black Sunday newspaper. The Grit became known as Bruce's Grit, a take on the pen name Bruce used for his columns in T. Thomas Fortune's New York Age. Grit was a popular slang term for tenacity and courage. He required both traits during the period in which he lived and worked in journalism as a correspondent for more than thirty majority, black, and international newspapers.

During Brace's life, which bridged the greatest decades of hope and despair in African American history in the United States, he, too, celebrated the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. He thought the long winter of slavery had ended and the reconstructive season of hope begun. …

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