We wish to plead our cause-Freedom Journal, March 16, 1827
In 1827 a gathering of influential free black citizens met in the New York City home of pan Africanist, and ordained Episcopalian minister, Alexander Crummell. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss a method of communicating their views on various social, political and economic issues that were unique to the black community. They also sought to create a forum whereby they could reply to the established media’s acerbic depictions of African-Americans in print. These depictions were especially loathsome when one understands that over 300,000 blacks resided in the north after the revolutionary war. Many of these free blacks gained their freedom by meritorious manumission.This was a process by which enslaved Africans exchanged bondage for military service. It was this client base that those in attendance sought to represent. The result? The Freedom Journal of 1827. Founded by Rev. Peter Williams, its’ first two editors were Rev. Samuel Cornish and John Brown Russwurm. Though white abolitionists, the liberals of their day, sought to defend the honor of the race, Cornish and Russwurm were adamant in their desire that blacks should have their own voice in media, independent of white abolitionists. They argued, “that too long have people spoken for us…. but we wish to plead our own cause.” And plead our cause they did. They stood up to the New York Newspapers that represented the interests of northern textile mills owners, who ridiculed blacks and supported slavery. The northern mill owners were strongly woven into the southern slave economy. They processed southern cotton in their mills into finished goods for export to Great Britain. Thus, they had a keen economic interest in the continuation and expansion of slavery below the so-called Mason-Dixon Line. Therefore, in spite of historical popular revision, even in the north, Big Cotton was king. Freedom Journal was not simply a black national newspaper. It provided global coverage on current events of the day such as slavery and the American Colonization Society’s efforts, to resettle free blacks in Liberia. It circulated in 11 states, the District of Columbia, Haiti, Europe, and Canada. One of its’ most famous (or infamous) agents was Black Boston abolitionist David Walker, author of The 1829 Appeal to the Colored People of The World. Unfortunately, due to low subscriptions, the paper folded in 1830. However, the movement to plead the cause would continue.
In 1905, Robert S. Abbott founded, arguably, the most influential newspaper in the history of Black media: The Chicago Defender. The Defender played a key role in the Great Migration of blacks out of the Jim Crow South into the Urban North. The paper published a litany of articles describing the gory depictions of lynching victims in the south. Using political cartoons with biting satirical wit, the Defender launched scathing attacks on southern legislators who supported bills that disenfranchised southern blacks. The paper was an ardent opponent of segregation, especially in the military. It’s alleged that the articles published in the Defender pushed President Harry S. Truman to issue Executive Order 9981 to desegregate the military. The Defender was also the originator of the infamous Double-V campaign. A campaign that encouraged enlistment of black men into the military during World War II, Double V- sought to use the political capital of black military service to eradicate racial discrimination in America. The Irish had successfully used a similar campaign during the Civil and Spanish American Wars. The Defender boasted an alumni of Black America’s greatest writers such as Langston Hughes, Gwendolyn Brooks and Willard Motley. Unfortunately, the Defender would also be a victim of the times, as it had fallen into financial trouble in early 2002. Fortunately, it was saved when in January 2003, Real Times Inc., led by Thom Picou, and founding publisher John H. Sengstacke’s son, Robert Sengstacke, bought the paper for 10 million dollars. Thus, it remains in black hands. It would later cover an unknown, obscure Chicago politician at the 2004 Democractic Convention named Barack Obama. While the Defender was a powerful media institution, it was by no means the only one. There was the Pittsburgh Courier, The Richmond Planet, The Cleveland Call and Post, and the New York Amsterdam News. Many of these papers met their demise at the turn of the 21st century. Others limp on as a result of diversification of their holdings.
The Digital Age has reduced print media to props for barbershops and hair salons. Cell phones and social media channels like You Tube have made paperboys an endangered species. Mass mergers and acquisitions of cable networks have swallowed up most independent black media. With the noble exception of TV ONE, there are very few truly black owned media outlets. Sites like Black Twitter, Your Black World and Breaking Brown are some of the few independent outlets online that still plead our cause. However, there is another potential game changer developing behind the scene. In the tradition of Abbott, Williams, and Russwurm, a full-time, 30-something medical student and part-time You Tube personality, has developed an independent media outlet known as the Negromanosphere. Oshay Duke Jackson like Abbott, funded the Negromanosphere out of his own pocket. Its’ purpose? To provide the Black male perspective on current issues of the day. While some will say that one can obtain that by a simple keystroke, it should be remembered that most outlets are controlled by black women at best, or at worst, staffed by black people but owned by white corporations. This is the sad commentary of black media in the 21st century. By contrast, the Negromanosphere is openly black owned and operated. Combining the satirical language of Mark Twain and the vernacular of hood niggas, Jackson has created an apparatus that gives political dialogue, comedic social commentary, and dating advice to working class black men. What makes it different from many of its contemporaries is an arsenal of heavy hitting writers that round out its’ roster. There is the explosive Donovan Sharpe. The incomparable Rom Wills. And holding court, is the iconoclastic 20-yr veteran author, relationship columnist, and international men’s dating expert, Alan Roger Currie. Additionally, in the spirit of the Defender, Jackson’s reach is also international. He has something that many other can’t boast of: African bloggers and writers. Simply put, he is doing real (not nigga or monkey) business globally. Starting from nothing, using a massive work effort and recruitment of talented writers, The Negromanosphere has viewers in the hundreds of thousands on a monthly basis. And it is still expanding. Should Jackson pull this off, he will revolutionize black media by restoring the original vision of the Freedom Journal. A vision that allows us to express ourselves independently of liberal white overseers. In other words, the freedom to “plead our own cause.” So subscribe to the Negromanosphere. Get your chicken wings, collard green sandwiches, and watermelon ice cream and enjoy…lol
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