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Overview of the past 182 years of the Black Press

Black Press

Overview of the past 182 years of the Black Press

A Brief History by Armistead S. Pride  and Clint C. Wilson II

     Excerpted from Pride and Wilson’s book, A History of the Black Press, published by Howard University Press (1997). Dr. Wilson, a Howard journalism professor, is director of the Black Press Institute, a program of the NNPA Foundation.

    National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA): The National Newspaper Publishers Association, also known as the Black Press of America, is a 69-year-old federation of more than 200 Black community newspapers from across the United States.

    Since World War II, it has also served as the industry’s news service, a position that it has held without peer or competitor since the Associated Negro Press dissolved by 1970. In 2000, the NNPA launched NNPA Media Services– a print and web advertising-placement and press release distribution service. In 2001, the NNPA, in association with the NNPA Foundation, began building the BlackPressUSA Network – the nation’s premier network of local Black community news and information portals. The BlackPressUSA Network is anchored by – the national web portal for the Black Press of America.

 NNPA History

    When John H. Sengstacke, then in his 30s and heir to the controlling fortunes of the Robert S. Abbott Publishing Co., sent out his call for a meeting of Negro newspaper publishers in Chicago for Feb. 29 through March 2, 1940, he had in mind a conference that would give major attention to advertising, editorial, and news gathering problems and would substantially recognize inevitable and omnipresent racial matters. It had been difficult enough in former years to bring together a common purpose – a large representation of the men, and a few women, that made up the Black Press. Yet, except for a five-year period, the Black newspaper publishers and editors had some form of national organization ever since the first meeting in Cincinnati in 1875 called by ex-Lieutenant Governor Pinchback of Louisiana. Before the 1940 call by Sengstacke, Carl Murphy had stressed the operating economies to be derived from a cooperative association of publishers, but even the bait of cheaper engraving costs, exchange of news and pictures, and a central clearinghouse for publishing problems and ideas was insufficient to overcome the draw-backs of distance, travel expense, sacrifice of time, and questionable benefits of membership in an organization.

    The Negro newspaper had long proved its usefulness and its indispensability both for the Black masses and for the Negro elite. It had acquired a niche that the general press then had no interest in challenging and was, like its predecessors, the major dispenser of news and opinion for an isolated people. Other Negro groups had long since found the path to organization successful; among them were physicians, lawyers, clergy, land-grant college presidents, educators, musicians, and war veterans. The question was, “Why couldn’t the publishers?”

    Sengstacke thought that the first step in joining hands was for Black publishers to get to know each other, and he said as much in his opening message at the first session of the 1940 conference. The meeting was, he said, designed for “harmonizing our energies in the common purpose for the benefit of Negro journalism.” Sengstacke outlined the three-day program and left room for a catch-all item labeled “business in general.” The newspapers represented at that first gathering included the leaders of the Negro fourth estate and three-fourths of the Negro newspaper circulation. Representatives from 20 commercial newspapers from all sections except the far western part of the country attended the Chicago conference.


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