Liberation Historiography: African American Writers and the Challenge of History, 1794-1861

By John Ernest | Go to book overview

chapter five
Our Warfare Lies in the Field of Thought
The African American Press and the Work of History

In his preface to his 1891 publication The Afro-American Press, and Its Editors, I. Garland Penn notes that “the object in putting forth this feeble effort is not for the praise of men or for the reaping of money, but to promote the future welfare of Afro-American journalism by telling to its constituents the story of its heroic labors in their behalf” (14). Hardly a feeble effort, Penn's book is a comprehensive and detailed history of the African American press, a work that has served as a foundation for many later studies. Penn's mention of black journalism's “constituents” underscores his sense of the importance of a specifically African American press, one engaged in a battle that requires “heroic labors” on behalf of an imagined community of African American readers. Penn was writing, in fact, to address a long-standing problem that plagued the African American press: the lack of support by its constituency. “I believe,” Penn continues, “that the greatest reason why our papers are not better supported is because the AfroAmericans do not sufficiently comprehend the responsibilities and magnitude of the work” (14). The work that Penn tried to record, support, and promote in The Afro-American Press is the subject of this chapter, and the magnitude of that work is the reason why it is important to consider what

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