"We didnít exist in the early papers. We were never born, we didnít get married, we didnít die. We didnít fight in any wars. We never participated in anything of scientific achievement. We were truly invisible, unless we committed a crime.
But in the black press, the Negro press, we did get married. They showed us our babies being born. They showed us graduating. They showed our Ph.D.ís."
Vernon Jarrett, journalist
"No longer shall others speak for us," wrote the founders of the first black newspaper, Freedomís Journal, in 1827. From that moment on, stories of the struggles and the achievements of African Americans would no longer languish in invisibility, ignored by the white-owned press. The Black Press: Soldiers Without Swords documents the history of many newspapers founded by and for African Americans, beginning with Freedomís Journal and proceeding through the contemporary era.
One of the preeminent themes of this program is the black pressís legacy of spirited activism. African American publishers and journalists understood that their duty was not only to report the news but to help black communities forge cohesive political movements. They often did so with remarkable success, from their roots in the antislavery movement, to crusades against Jim Crow segregation and racist violence, to championing the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s.
This legacy is all too often omitted from general histories of American journalism. The Black Press: Soldiers Without Swords brings the history of the black press to light. It presents compelling archival film footage, still photographs, and illustrations depicting people and places that the black press reached. These images show us what these newspapers looked like, and allow us to read and hear their words. In addition, this film includes testimony from men and women who worked for the black press as reporters, artists, and publishers. While the film mentions dozens of black newspapers from throughout the black pressís history, it examines the histories of the influential California Eagle, Chicago Defender, and Pittsburgh Courier in particular depth.
Section one: Too Long Have Others Spoken For Us, begins with the 1827 founding of Freedomís Journal in the context of the abolitionist movement. It traces the proliferation of black newspapers that followed emancipation, as the black press strove to help build communities for free African Americans.
Section two: Standing Up for the Race, describes the role of the black press in the migration of African Americans from the South to cities in the northern and western United States during the first two decades of the twentieth century.
Section three : A Separate World, focuses on the strategies that black newspapers of the 1920s and 1930s used to help readers find jobs and other necessities under segregation. Just as importantly, these newspapers provided African Americans with positive images of themselves, countering the degrading representations of the white press.
Section four: Treason? The film presents the dilemma faced by African Americans asked to fight in World War II for a nation that denied them the rights of full citizenship.
Section five : Putting Itself Out of Business. The Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s is at the heart of this section. Ironically, as the Civil Rights movement achieved some of its goals, the circulation of black newspapers declined and their political influence waned.
The Black Press: Soldiers Without Swords concludes with the suggestion that we consider the role of contemporary African American newspapers in the communities in which they continue to exist, and the possibility of revitalizing this important institution as a forum for critical debate and a weapon of political activism in the twenty-first century.