Education being an object of the highest importance to the welfare of society, we shall endeavor to present just and adequate views of it, and to urge upon our brethren the necessity of expedience in training their children while young to habits of industry.
Freedom's Journal, March 16, 1827.
WITH THIS EXPRESSION of purpose, which had special meaning to the readers they intended to address, John B. Russwurm and Smauel Cornish began Freedom's Journal - the first newspaper to be published by men of African descent in the United States. Though it lasted only four years, this newspaper defined the role of black publications in succeeding decades as champions of freedom and equal rights for people of color. Moreover, Freedom's Journal - born as it was in a period when much of the existing press strongly opposed freedom or any other fundamental human rights for black people - was to inspire some 40 black publications before the Civil War. Notable among these was the North Star, published by Frederick Douglass in Rochester in 1850, later under the banner, Frederick Douglass' Paper.
Today in the nation's capital, one of the better-known descendants of the original family of black newspapers around the country is the Washington Afro-American, from which an editorial except appears elsewhere on this page, For the Record. The Washington Afro is an offspring of the famed Baltimore Afro-American - first published in 1892 by John H. Murphy Sr. Together with the two other papers in this chain, in Richmond and Newark, the Afro-American newspapers today are still managed by the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of Mr. Murphy. Nationally, there are more than 200 black weekly-newspapers, four dailies and a dozen magazines.
To celebrate this proud tradition nationally - and to consider the less certain future of the black press - members of the National Newspaper Publishers Association of black editors and publishers are convening here this week. This afternoon, they wil join the Howard University community in dedicating a new Black Press Archives in the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center on the Howard campus. The publishers also will enshire five of their pioneer publishers in a new gallery of distinguished newspaper publishers. The Archives promises to be not only a fine show-piece for Howard, but also an important and interesting addition to the collections of historical documents in this city.
Despite this significant past, however, the black press today is no longer the force it once was. As Chuck Stone, columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News and a former editor of the Washington Afro, writes in Editor & Publisher, "The black press survives. But it no longer predominates." Mr. stone notes that "changing reader habits, a growing black middle-class sophistication, more black news in white newspapers, a burgeoning sense of what Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley calls 'deracialization' and the impact of television . . . have combined to devastate the black press' influence."
Still, there is plenty of work left for the black press of America, a culture to preserve and injustices to cite. As Enoch P. Waters, former editor of the Chicago Defender, notes, "rights are best protected by those who suffer most by their abuse.