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.
From the beginning, The Courier called for improvements in housing, health and education, and protested the slum conditions in which black people were forced to live in Pittsburgh and elsewhere throughout the nation. In one campaign it pressed for an increase of black physicians in the Pittsburgh area and the opening of an African American hospital to serve the community's health needs as white facilities were unwilling to treat African Americans.
The Courier protested misrepresentations of African Americans in the mainstream media. In the early 1930's, the paper began a nationwide protest against the Amos n' Andy daily radio serial. It petitioned to remove the program from the air and published scathing editorials denouncing the program's negative portrayals of black people.
Following Robert L. Vann's death on October 24, 1940, Ira Lewis, who had worked at the paper since 1914 as a sports writer and eventually managing editor, and whom Vann had hand-picked as his successor, became editor. Under his leadership The Courier reached its highest circulation, and gained even greater popularity and scope.
This was due in part to the successful "Double V" campaign spearheaded by The Courier. Beginning in the paper's February 7, 1942 edition and continuing weekly until 1943, the Double V campaign demanded that African Americans who were risking their lives abroad receive full citizenship rights at home. The newspaper printed articles, editorials, letters, Double V photographs, and drawings, and even designed a recognizable Double V sign to promote the campaign. Many other black newspapers endorsed the campaign as well, making it a nationwide effort. Another major battle fought by The Courier was against segregation in professional sports. Wendell Smith, who became the paper's sportswriter in 1938, used his column to denounce segregation in the major leagues. His efforts contributed to Jackie Robinson's signing with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947. In the early years of Robinson's baseball career, Smith traveled and roomed with Robinson on several Dodger trips, and arranged his travel and housing itinerary, because in some cities Robinson could not stay with the rest of the team in segregated hotels. The Courier was one of the few black newspapers to provide coverage of news in Africa as the continent moved towards independence.
In 1948 Ira Lewis died. The Courier's circulation began to decline during the 1950s and '60s, and in 1965, it was sold to John Sengstacke, the owner and publisher of The Chicago Defender. Today The Pittsburgh Courier is published under the name "The New Pittsburgh Courier."
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Power of the Press:
Washburn, Patrick S. The Black Press: Homefront Clout Hits A Peak in World War II. American Journalism 1995 12 (3): 359-366.
African Americans Depicted in the Media:
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Our Press A Flaming Sword in Fight for Race Progress: Its Unifying Role Brought Negroes Closer Together. Pittsburgh Courier. Pittsburgh Courier: 1950. 7 p.
Wiggins, David Kenneth. Wendell Smith: The Pittsburgh Courier-Journal and the Campaign to include Blacks in Organized Baseball, 1933-1945. Journal of Sport History, vol. 10, no. 2 (Summer 1983): 5-29.