Publisher Levi Henry, Jr. , “From the Press to the Pulpit.”
“The preachers’ preacher.” — Dr. Mack King Carter
By Derek Joy
Black History Month is an occasion to focus on the contributions of Black people in America.
It is a month-long celebration of accomplishments that could not be complete without due consideration of the Black Media.
Obviously, education is a key to the survival and progress of American society. The Black church and Black Media are next in line for Black people. History says as much.
“One supports the other,” said Bishop Victor T. Curry, senior pastor/teacher of New Birth Cathedral of Faith in Opa Locka. Bishop Curry operates the only Black American owned radio station – WMBM, 1490 AM, in South Florida. “We read the Black newspapers and pass on the information. The Black media can print what goes on in the pulpit.”
The Black church has always been an integral part of the Civil Rights Movement,” Curry continued. Most of the Civil Rights leaders were clergy. Most of the Civil Rights meetings were held in church. They couldn’t meet anywhere else.
The clergy is involved because they are paid by the church and not subject to losing their jobs or being sanctioned.”
By and large, it has been clergymen at the forefront of the Civil Rights Movement in America. Politicians were never overly vocal. Nor were leaders of business and industry.
Despite having had the Constitution add Amendments 13, 14 and 15, African Americans were still discriminated against and denied fundamental Civil Rights. Hence, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., rose to prominence with his Non-Violent Civil Rights Movement.
“In an unlikely way we found an unlikely ally. We unleashed a generation of freedom fighters in children,” said the Rev. Dr. Zachary Royal, pastor of St. Mary’s First Missionary Baptist Church in Coconut Grove.
“Children became the new freedom fighters because the adult leaders were in jail, had been terrorized, sprayed with water hoses and attacked by police dogs. The Civil Rights Movement was fast becoming a disaster. So, children rose to the front.”
Interestingly enough, the first Black American newspaper – Freedom’s Journal – was published in 1822 in New York by Samuel Cornish and John Brown Russwurm.
Samuel Cornish (1795 – 1858), was born in Sussex County, Del. He was a Presbyterian minister, journalist and educator. John Brown Russwurm (1799-1851), a journalist, collector and abolitionist, was born in Port Antonio, Jamaica.
“The AME Church started one of the first Black owned printing presses in the country, known as the Christian Recorder,” said Rev. Dr. Henry Green, pastor of Mount Hermon AME Church in Fort Lauderdale.
After years of discrimination, and only being allowed to worship in the balconies of Anglo churches, African Americans revolted.
Richard Allen (Feb. 14, 1760 – Mar. 26, 1831) and Absalom Jones (Nov. 11, 1746 – Feb.13, 1818) led African American worshippers from the balcony of St. George’s Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia to formed founded the Free African Society (FAS).
Jones would serve as lay reader, and, after a period of study, would be ordained and serve as rector. Allen, a minister, journalist and abolitionist, wanted the group to remain Methodist, and in 1793 he left to form a Methodist congregation. Allen, then founded the first African American Church congregation in America as the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church.
“The partnership between church and Black media has helped bring about the many accomplishments made throughout the Civil Rights Era. Both the church and the media have provided a voice to the struggle that otherwise would have been silenced without the freedom of expression provided by both of these mediums.
“The historical alliance between the Black Media and the church rest in the many famous publishers and writers that come out of the Black Church tradition and received their inspiration in the church.”
There is an undeniable value in having the alternative perspectives and untold stories that Black American newspapers publish. Stories that mainstream media overlook are often told in Black American newspapers.
The Rev. Dr. Marcus Davidson, pastor of New Mount Olive Baptist Church in Fort Lauderdale, added: Without a doubt, the Black church and the Black Press have been instrumental in the Civil Rights Movement. “They have been the voice when the political powers have been silent. The church must continue to be a voice that won’t waver, an agent of change and a light of hope for the people.”
On the link between the Black church and Black media, St. Mary’s First Missionary Baptist Church in Coconut Grove Pastor, Rev. Dr. Zachary Royal said: “The two are connected.
“The Black Church is always instrumental in offering opportunities for Black people. The Black Press is an apparatus of independent thought.”
From Cornish and Russwurm’s publication, Freedom’s Journal in 1822, to the AME Church’s Christian Recorder, to the present day National Newspapers Publishers Association (NNPA), the Black Media has been, and remains, a key instrument in the Civil Rights struggle.
NNPA, an organization of some 205 member newspapers across America, celebrates its 75th Anniversary later this year. Unlike mainstream American newspapers, the Black Press has not suffered a debilitating hit as a result of the rise of internet publishing and social media.
Rev. Joe Johnson, pastor of Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church in Hallandale, sees the role of the Black Church in the civil rights movement as absolute necessary.
“I see it as imperative,” said Johnson. “The church must be proactive. We must educate and advocate and do all the things necessary to strengthen us. Racism has raised its ugly head in a more mean way since Barack Obama was elected President.
“The church has to take a stand and not go back. We can’t let our voices be silent. We can’t just speak; we got to go into action and address all the pertinent issues that are in the gospel message. It’s alright to shout, but what are you going to do after the shouting is over?
“The Black church must support and defend Black owned media. It is necessary to our survival. It’s a monumental task. We need everything we can get to get our message out.”
The racism and discrimination that has haunted Black Americans has taken its toll on Black media, especially among newspapers. NNPA hit a high point some 20 years ago with nearly 300 member newspapers. Now, that membership is at 205.
So, as Black media continues its struggle for equality, the battle for advertisers persists, almost as if governmental entities and Corporate America make concerted individual, yet seemingly collective efforts, to discriminate with its advertising dollars.
There is a struggle in the Black church to survive as well, as young people search for their place in the church and in the struggle.
“The Black church from 1787 until today impacts the Civil Rights Movement with the assistance of the Black Media,” said Rev. Henry Green.
“The Black church is the matrix of the Civil Rights Movement. It houses the righteous and discontent and the conscience of America. It is the only institution in North America that provides a theological accounting for human actions,” said Royal.
“Christianity is the reason for racism and injustice. With the Ku Klux Klan (KKK), what you see is the sanctification of racism all in the name of Christianity all wrapped up in the American flag. We must continue to deal with racism and injustice.”
What’s more is the damage that was done to children, who were also sprayed with water hoses, in the Civil Rights Movement.
“I think we can do a lot better. Those of us on the outside have to speak up,” said Curry.