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America 1900 | Article

African American Press, Higher Education and Military Service

The African American Press 
The number of black newspapers increased greatly after the Civil War, and by 1890, African Americans had published around 575 newspapers or periodicals. These included the Philadelphia Tribune, founded in 1884 and still in operation today, and the Afro-American, a Baptist church publication founded in 1892, which evolved into a daily newspaper. In general, African American publishers aimed their publications at a small, educated elite, offering commentary from a black perspective and news of particular interest to the African American community rather than comprehensive news coverage. Booker T. Washington had a great deal of influence on the African American press at the turn of the century, as many publications led hard-scrabble existences with low subscriber bases and little advertising revenue. Washington was a clearinghouse for loans, advertisements, and political subsidies, which his critics said he directed toward the papers that supported his accommodationist views. William Monroe Trotter and George Forbes set out to counter Washington's doctrine when they founded the Boston Guardian in 1901. The paper represented the first organized opposition to the policy of accommodation, and pointed the way toward a more militant black press in the 20th century.

African American Higher Education
By 1900, African Americans who wanted more than the vocational curriculum favored by Booker T. Washington could turn to 34 black colleges and universities, as well as white institutions, such as Oberlin, which admitted black students. The oldest historically black college still in operation today, Cheyney State in Pennsylvania, was founded in 1837. A number of black institutions emphasized particular curricula. Wilberforce University in Ohio groomed men for the military, and Shaw University in North Carolina was one of the first black institutions to offer a medical school. Alcorn College, founded in 1871, was the first black land-grant college and was made possible by the Morrill Act of 1862, which provided federal land-grant funds for higher education. Congress passed the second Morrill Act in 1890, which stipulated that no state could receive federal aid for any white agricultural or mechanical school unless the state also provided for a similar school for African Americans. In this way, a system of separate land-grant institutions became the basis of black higher education in the South. In 1900, W. E. B. du Bois found that there were around 2,600 living African Americans who had graduated from post-secondary institutions.

African American Military Service 
The explosion of the battleship USS Maine in the harbor at Havana killed 250 officers and men, 22 of them African-Americans. The disaster prompted McKinley and Congress to declare war on Spain, and Virginia, Alabama, North Carolina, Ohio, Illinois, and Kansas organized African American volunteer units, some of which were commanded by black officers. In most regiments designated for African Americans, however, whites were assigned to the upper service grades. Protests by African Americans against this practice caused Congress to curtail the number of black regiments actually organized. Approximately 10,000 African Americans served during the Spanish-American War. The 24th Infantry participated in the charge up San Juan Hill. A black First Sargeant, George Berry, was honored at a peace celebration in the fall of 1898 for his heroic conduct in planting the colors of his regiment on the Spanish works on San Juan Hill. Black soldiers were awarded six Medals of Honor for service in the Spanish-American War.

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