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African American Newspapers

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African American newspapers came into existence before the Civil War as a medium of expression of abolitionist sentiment. In 1827, Samuel Cornish and John B. Russwarm started the first African American periodical, called Freedom's Journal. Founded on March 16, 1827 as a four page, four column standard sized weekly, Freedom's Journal was the first black owned and operated newspaper in the United States, and was established the same year that slavery was abolished in New York State. Begun by a group of free black men in New York City, the paper served to counter racist commentary published in the mainstream press.

The Freedom's Journal initiated the trend of African American papers throughout the United States to fight for liberation and rights, demonstrate racial pride, and inform readers of events affecting the African American community. Unfortunately, because there were few white abolitionists, African Americans were not able financially to support the paper; its circulation ended in 1830. Furthermore, other African American newspapers came about during the antebellum South. One of these, the North Star, founded by Frederick Douglass, had the same fate as the Freedom's Journal. On December 3, 1847, Douglass began his second career, when his four page weekly newspaper, the North Star, came off the presses. On the masthead appeared the motto, "Right is of no sex - Truth is of no color - God is the Father of us all, and we are all Brethren." Once the North Star began to circulate, Douglass's friends in the abolitionist movement rallied to join in praising it. However, not everyone was pleased to see another antislavery paper, especially one edited by an ex-slave. The North Star received a number of glowing reviews, but unfortunately the praises did not translate into financial success. The cost of producing a weekly newspaper was high and subscriptions grew slowly. For a number of years, Douglass was forced to depend on his own savings and contributions from friends to keep the paper afloat.

As African Americans migrated from fields to urban centers, virtually every large city with a significant African American population soon had African American newspapers. For example, the Chicago Defender, the Pittsburgh Courier, and the Afro-American. The Chicago Defender, which was founded by Robert S. Abbott on May 5, 1905, once announced itself publicly as "The World's Greatest Weekly." The newspaper was the nation's most influential black weekly newspaper by the advent of World War I, with more than two thirds of its readership base located outside of Chicago. The Defender did not use the words "Negro" or "black" in its pages. Instead, African Americans were referred to as "the Race" and black men and women as "Race men and Race women. The Chicago Defender was the first black newspaper to have a circulation over 100,000, the first to have a health column, and the first to have a full page of comic strips.

The Pittsburgh Courier was once the country's most widely circulated black newspaper with a national circulation of almost 200,000. Established in 1907 by Edwin Harleston, a security guard and aspiring writer, the newspaper gained national prominence after attorney Robert Lee Vann took over as the newspaper's editor, publisher, treasurer, and legal counsel in 1910. By the 1930's it was one of the top selling black newspapers in the country, as widely read as The Chicago Defender and The Afro-American.

The Afro-American has crusaded for racial equality and economic advancement for Black Americans for more than

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