Freedom’s Journal, The Nation’s First Black-Owned Newspaper, Shows Importance Of A Free Press

Tuesday, February 5, 2019 || By Michael Romain || OPINION || @maywoodnews

I think it’s fitting that I set aside some time in February, Black History Month, to recognize what, in some ways, was this paper’s precedence — Freedom’s Journal, the first African American owned and operated newspaper in the United States.

The very first paragraphs within the very first issue of the paper, which debuted on March 16, 1827, illustrate the publication’s very reason for being.

“‘We wish to plead our own cause,” wrote the paper’s editors, Samuel Cornish and John B. Russwurm. “Too long have others spoken for us.”

The Wisconsin Historical Society has, thankfully, digitized all 103 issues of the pioneering newspaper’s archives and made them freely accessible to the public here.

Founded by Rev. Peter Williams, Jr., along with some other free African Americans in New York City, the weekly, four-page newspaper existed for only about two years — its last issue was published on March 28, 1829.

The paper’s legacy, however, continues; along with its beautifully simple purpose, rooted in justice and human decency. The Journal contained “current events of the day,” “editorials declaiming slavery, lynching and other injustices,” “biographies of prominent African Americans,” and “vital record listings of births, deaths and marriages” in New York’s African American community.

Some 200 years later, what newspapers we have, such as this little one, remain rooted in the basic human proposition best articulated, I believe, by the 20th Century thinker Paul Goodman: “A man has only one life and if during it he has no great environment, no community, he has been irreparably robbed of a human right.”

History is rooted in community, which is fed by communication. Good newspapers show the people in real, living communities what they have in common. They are the first drafts of history.

If you need to be persuaded of their importance, imagine living 200 years from now and searching for an archive, similar to Freedom’s Journal, of black dignity and humanity. Newspapers, despite their current endangerment, are still unrivaled in this regard. And that’s why we still need them. VFP

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