The Black Press: Setting the Political Agenda during World War II

By Spellman, Charles G. | Negro History Bulletin, December 1993 | Go to article overview

The Black Press: Setting the Political Agenda during World War II


Spellman, Charles G., Negro History Bulletin


CREDO FOR THE NEGRO PRESS

I Shall Be A Crusader...

I Shall Be An Advocate...

I Shall Be A Herald...

I Shall Be A Mirror And A Record...

I Shall Have Integrity...

I Shall be a crusader and an advocate, a mirror and a record, a herald and a spotlight, and I Shall not falter.

So help me God.

The Credo, wrtten by Journal and Guide editor P. Bernard Young, Jr. represents a declaration to provide truth, honesty, and service to the black community. When the Credo was written, the black press was the sole "Voice of the Negro." As a crusader, the black press fought vigorously for Negro rights. As an advocate, the black press fought vigorously to ban "Jim Crow" laws which legally sanctioned segregation. As a herald, the black press was the bearer of both good and bad news, always heralding those causes that others would suppress out of bias or perceived lack of interest.

The black press gained its respectful reputation for being the "Voice of the Negro" in the early days of segregation and unconscionable discrimination. African Americans were often negatively depicted in the white media. The negative images were reflective of the perceptions held by many whites, resulting in the development of the advocacy movement by the black press.

In the early years of the black presence in America, access to the white press was denied to the "Negro." As a result, African Americans founded their own newspapers. In 1827, Samuel Cornish and John B. Russwurm established the first black newpaper, Freedom's Journal writing in an editorial:

"We wish to plead our own cause. Too long have others spoken for us. Too long has the public been deceived by misrepresentations in the things which concern us dearly."

Although Cornish and Russwurm were primarily concerned with negative aspects of the colonization of free African Americans and the gradualism of emancipation as advocated by the white press, they addressed many issues of concern to their readership. From this auspicious beginning, the black press became the primary voice for information and journalistic expression in the black community. That role remained a key one up to and during World War II.

When the war began, the news and information needs of the black community increased. The absence of news about African Americans in the segregated white media inspired additional coverage by the black press. As the only means of constant mass communication information particularly relevant to the African American, the black press assumed the awesome responsibility of relating the activities of the war to its readership. As reporting increased, so did newspaper circulation. Since the primary news of interest to African Americans appeared in the black press, it reached its peak circulation during the war years. The Pittsburgh Courier had a circulation of 350,000; the Chicago Defender, 230,000; the Baltimore Afro-American, 170,000 and the Norfolk Journal and Guide, 100,000.

The black press enhanced the political awareness of its readership during World War II while mobilizing black public opinion. As America went to war to fight against Nazism and Fascism abroad, the black press formulated a political agenda at home. Theoretically, "the [black] press did not tell its readership what to think; it told its readership what to think about."

The black press reported vital information that increased awareness about war activities and black participation in the armed services. As significant political information about the state of black affairs in the Armed Services was gathered and reported in the black press, black opinion leaders emerged. Ministers, politicians and community leaders were responsible conduits for spreading the word about the war. Consequently, government, political, social, and wartime issues were covered with great care. Important issues concerning the acceptance of African Americans in the armed forces, the types of jobs African Americans would have in the armed forces, the treatment of African Americans in the Armed forces, and whether or not African Americans would be allowed the "right to fight" for their country were among the most important issues covered. …

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