“The Black Press: Soldiers without Swords,” is an eye-opening documentary about an aspect of African American history that I had never learned about. In the public school system and even in my communications courses in college, the history of the black press had never come up. I was happy to learn, yet disappointed that another teacher never brought up this rich and inspiring history.
When I think about the “American dream” I think about those who were brought here without a choice, who made a home in a country that was against them, and who had the same dreams as free citizens. Although African Americans were made to feel inferior they did not have inferior dreams. Their legacy in the press is as wonderful as their legacy in American music, the arts, and athleticism. Ironically, and in my humble opinion, black culture proved its richness, and defined the United States.
The Black Press gave witness to the darkest and brightest aspects of American history. After the reconstruction period, “The Free Speech,” caused uproar for exposing lynching in the South. The newspaper became a vessel for social change. The black reporters practiced activist journalism, and were willing to see the worst of humanity in order to expose injustice.
The documentary showed that the press has the power to change and build communities. “The Chicago Defender,” was responsible for the migration of southern blacks to the North. The exodus meant new urban communities and more newspapers that gave hope and pride to those growing communities. Being a member of the black press was glamorous, and the press was a training ground for black professionals, from photographers and typographers to cartoonist and literary giants (i.e. Langston Hughes and Gwendolyn Brooks). Their words were a “Sting for Our Enemies—Honey for Our Friends,” like the motto of “The Washington Bee.” Eventually many black reporters moved to white newspapers when segregation ended. Most newspapers started failing, and the presses closed. With the rise of citizen journalism and online media, a new network of communication is bound to provide a platform for debate on issues that concern black America.