Denise Rolark Barnes, editor, Washington Informer

BlackHer: Women of The Black Press – from Ida B. Wells to Denise Rolark Barnes

Denise Rolark Barnes, editor, Washington Informer
Denise Rolark Barnes, editor of The Washington Informer

I have a particular fondness for this story, published this week in BlackHer, the new online publication by and for today’s politically active Black woman.

Long before I knew Denise Rolark Barnes, publisher of The Washington Informer I was aware of the role the Black Press has historically played in African-American life.

Many of us think particularly of these newspapers’ role as connectors before, during, and after the Great Migration, when Blacks moved North in large numbers (contextual translation: ran for our lives), fleeing the South, where the new freedom was tenuous at best.

But long before the Great Migration our newspapers were connecting us, starting with New York City’s Freedom’s Journal, published in 1827. Henry Louis Gates‘ lovely article in The Root sums up what Black owned and operated newspapers have meant to Black folk:

The editors of Freedom’s Journal said as much in the paper’s premier issue, dated March 16, 1827:

“We wish to plead our own cause. Too long have others spoken for us. Too long has the publick been deceived by misrepresentations, in things which concern us dearly, though in the estimation of some mere trifles; for though there are many in society who exercise towards us benevolent feelings; still (with sorrow we confess it) there are others who make it their business to enlarge upon the least trifle, which tends to the discredit of any person of colour; and pronounce anathemas and denounce our whole body for the misconduct of this guilty one.”

It’s a legacy that continues to this day. Through the member papers of the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA), Black Americans can still stay connected to ourselves as community.

Ida B. Wells, publisher of the Memphis Free Speech newspaper in the 1890s

In the BlackHer article, I take a look at the women publishers, then and now.

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