Although Frederick Douglass's major effort concentrated on eradicating slavery, he assured his peers that the North Star had dedicated itself to the cause of free men and would fearlessly assert their rights. He reminded them that the Black man, North and South, had but a single cause -- full freedom and citizenship everywhere -- and that success would come only with mutual assistance one to another. Moreover, as an editor and publisher, he assiduously devoted his talents and funds to producing an exemplary product of high standards.

     The leadership and perseverance of the Black publication was typified in the work of Philip A. Bell, recognized widely by the titles of "Napoleon of the Colored Press" and "Nester of the Colored Press." In a post-mortem tribute to Bell at the end of the 19th century, T. Thomas Fortune characterized him as one who "had fought the anti-slavery fight all his days, a grand old warrior."

     Following the debacle of Reconstruction when the Negro found himself blown about by state laws and federal edicts that set him apart, the Black press went to work to ameliorate conditions, to expose the Klan and lynching, and to combat creeping ostracism and the double standard of citizenship.

     The Black newspaper carved its own record in granite extending over the long course to a second Emancipation. It lent a hand to the NAACP and letter-writers in convincing the white press, paper by paper, that the "N" in Negro should be capitalized. Dropping the long-standing race tag after John Smith's name took additional frustrating years.

     Then came Black newspaper-engineered boycotts of stores that refused to advertise in Black papers or to hire Black workers. There were then the drives for jobs, equal pay, promotions, and impartial treatment. Intertwined with these was the contention for desegregation of schools, churches, drinking fountains, railroad cars, restaurants, hotels, and graveyards. Working hand in hand with the NAACP, the editors and their national press association raised large sums to finance court suits and litigation challenging state laws and national practices.

 

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February 2000