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Much of African American history is intertwined with the history of the Black press. Most people know that throughout history the pages of the Black press recorded appeals for the abolishment of slavery; protestations against Jim Crow laws and lynchings; the ideological debate between Booker T. Washington and W. E. B. DuBois; and the call for southern Blacks to join the "great migration" to northern cities. What is often overlooked, however, are the stories of everyday social life, the calls for community solidarity and self improvement, the recognition of achievements and the transmission of cultural values that made the Black press an essential element of life.

Some may ask what is the Black press and how do we define it in this era of new technology, the Internet and cyberspace communication. The definition remains the same as set forth by the late Black press scholar, Dr. Armistead S. Pride: (1) it must be owned and controlled by Black people, (2) it must be written and produced by Black people and (3) it must contain news and information intended for a Black audience.

As you browse through this special electronic journal edition on the Black press, it is important to be mindful of the context of its beginnings and the importance it still has for us even after the passage of 173 years. In the words of Dr. Pride:

"America’s Black press was the offspring of the imperfections of a young democracy. Its life, starting amidst slavery, runs just half a century shorter than that of the nation itself. Within even that short span of time the Black man had found that the ideals of freedom and equality declared by the founding fathers were being widely flouted."

For him, the most unyielding proponent of those ideals, expectation ran far ahead of fulfillment, and the gap seemed almost impossible to close. The most persistent and insistent agency in communicating this sentiment has been the Black press all through its history. Echoing through the salutatories, editorials, and policy statements of Black newspapers and magazines have been the words of the senior editor of the first Black newspaper: "We have for ages been unwavering in the opinion that we should some day possess . . . in our land a perfect equality in all respects with our white brethren."

Clint C. Wilson, II, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Journalism
School of Communications
Howard University


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February 2000