There were other needs unmet in that day by the general press. There were the responses that had to be made to anti-Negro attacks printed in the general press. For the freeman's day-to-day survival there was room for a vehicle to champion his efforts to get jobs, to keep those he had; likewise to protect his right to vote and to combat the mounting drive to disenfranchise him.

     There was need also for an organ of instruction -- a service, it's true, rendered by the existing newspapers but not one suited to the peculiar needs of the Black man -- one that would familiarize him with achievements and meritorious deeds of fellow Blacks, that would inspire the young people to read, to develop their minds to the fullest, and to raise the general level of public conduct.

     There was need also for an agency to inspire thrift and a sensible management of one's possessions, however small, and to project the virtues of self-help, self-development and resource-fulness.

     There had to be a device, in short, to nourish and advance what was of mutual concern to all people of color or what Cornish and Russwurm identified as the "common cause" in the first issue of their newspaper. Such a device had to unify the Black community against its foes and lead it onto the level of full citizenship and into the maximum realization of its civil rights.

     The first Black newspaper incorporated these needs in its published declarations of intentions, a broadscale blueprint that wears neither with age nor with use. Like the U.S. Constitution the declarations find themselves couched in a freshened idiom as conditions and time dictate.

     The multiple role of the Black editor as newspaper manager, community leader, and family breadwinner has taken numerous forms since the first editors combined church ministry and social reform with newspaper preparation.

     Martin Delany's libel suit developed from his abhorrence of the "informer" against fugitive slaves. The choice of Syracuse and Cortlandville, New York as Samuel R. Ward's bases of operations afforded him the freedom and security to publish a newspaper, to head a church, to help other escapees, to follow the lecture circuit, and to flee across to freedom beyond the Canadian border should the need arise.

 

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February 2000