The strength of Black media

Merdies Hayes | 3/3/2017, midnight
African Americans have played a pivotal role in helping to shape American journalism.

During World War I, the Defender supported the “Great Migration” movement which resulted in more than 1.5 million African Americans migrating from the south to the north between 1915-1925. The defender covered in detail the “Red Summer Riots” of 1919, a series of race riots taking place then across the country. The paper campaigned for anti-lynching legislation and for integrated sports. Its columnists included Walter White and Langston Hughes; the Defender was the first media outlet to publish a number of Hughes’ Pulitzer Prize-winning poems.

Pittsburgh Courier

The Pittsburgh Courier was one of the most popular and influential Black newspapers of its generation. It began shortly after the Chicago Defender (1907) by the end of his run in 1966 had become part of the media publishing empire of John H. Sengstacke who would rename it the New Pittsburgh Courier. In the 1920s, the Courier worked as a tool for social progress, specifically in covering injustices of African Americans. One such campaign was its support of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters which fought for equal treatment by the Pullman Company which oversaw railway workers.

The paper also advocated better education for Black students, and equal employment and union opportunities. The Courier didn’t always agree with the civil rights agenda of the NAACP and sometimes found itself at odds with W.E.B. Du Bois, Walter White and other Black leaders over a variety of civil rights issues. Du Bois would eventually become a regular columnist with the publication.

In 1938, the Courier pushed President Franklin Roosevelt to integrate Black units in the armed forces, and it played a significant role in politically realigning African Americans with the Democratic Party when publisher Robert L. Vann urged his readership in 1932 by writing: “My friends, go home and turn Lincoln’s picture to the wall.” The “Pittsburgh Courier Radio Hour” in 1927 was broadcast from New York City and helped to boost the paper’s reputation as a leading voice for Black America.

The Courier earned a place in civil rights history for its “Double V” (“Victory Overseas/Victory at Home”) campaign during World War II. The campaign provided a voice for Black military personnel and pressed for the “elimination of the ban which prevents loyal Negro Americans from full participation in the defense industries of the country.” These efforts would lead to President Harry Truman signing Executive Order 9981 in 1948 which began the process of integrating the United States military. As well, the “Double V” campaign provided the impetus for a series of articles by sports writer Wendell Smith to encourage the integration of American professional sports, notably the signing of Jackie Robinson by the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1946.

‘Don’t Buy Where You Can’t Work’

Los Angeles has a proud history of Black newspapers. The California Eagle in 1879 became the state’s first African American newspaper and reached its prominence under the guidance of editor Charlotta Bass. In the early 1960s the California Eagle, located at 4071 S. Central Ave., had a circulation of more than 21,000 readers and focused its primary coverage on civil rights, specifically in its platform for equitable hiring, patronage of Black businesses, and an end to segregated facilities. One of the famous names from the paper was Loren Miller who began as a reporter in 1930, earned a law degree, and in 1951 became its owner. In 1945, Miller represented Hattie McDaniel and won her case against the “Sugar Hill” restrictive housing covenant. Miller became a superior court judge in 1963.