Vernon Jarrett: We didn't exist in the other papers. We were neither born, we didn't get married, we didn't die, we didn't fight in any wars, we never participated in anything of a scientific achievement. We were truly invisible unless we committed a crime. and in the BLACK PRESS, the negro press, we did get married. They showed us our babies when born. They showed us graduating. They showed our PhDs.
Phyl Garland: The black press was never intended to be objective because it didn't see the -- the white press being objective. It often took a position. It had an attitude. This was a press of advocacy. There was news, but the news had an admitted and a deliberate slant.
Narrator: For over 150 years, African American newspapers were among the strongest institutions in Black America. They helped to create and stabilize communities. They spoke forcefully to the political and economic interests of their readers while employing thousands. Black newspapers provided a forum for debate among African Americans and gave voice to a people who were voiceless. With a pen as their weapon, they were Soldiers Without Swords.
Narrator: New York, 1826.
MORDECHAI NOAH QUOTE: "The 15th part of the population of this city is composed of blacks. Only 15 are qualified to vote. Freedom is a great blessing, indeed, to them. They swell our list of paupers, they are indolent, and uncivil. and yet if a black man commits a crime, we have more interest made for him than for a white." Mordechai Noah, New York Enquirer, Tuesday, November 21st, 1826.
Narrator: In the early 19th century, African Americans were routinely vilified on the pages of the mainstream press and had no way to respond. and by the winter of 1827 an outraged community had had enough. Three blacks gathered on Varick Street in Lower Manhattan and decided that they, too, would use the press as a weapon. They pooled their money and started the first newspaper in the United States to be published by African Americans, Freedom's Journal.
Jane Rhodes: Their whole idea behind Freedom's Journal was, ah, to have a voice, an independent voice, an autonomous voice for African Americans. The opening editorial on the front page of Freedom's Journal says, "We mean to plead our own cause ...
Vernon Jarrett: "No longer shall others speak for us." What they were saying is that "We don't mind having white Abolitionists plead on our behalf, but we can do it better." and they saw the media as one of the only outlets available for them. Public expression was one of the few weapons that blacks had.
Narrator: Chosen as the editors of Freedom's Journal were 28 year-old John Russwurm, one of the first black graduates of an American university, and 32 year-old preacher Samuel Cornish. In their inaugural issue, Russwurm and Cornish set out a clear vision for the first black newspaper.
The Black Press