Freedom’s Journal: What the First Black Newspaper in America Meant to Black People

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Rev. John Wilk and other free black people in New York City founded Freedom’s Journal in 1827, a time tragically marred by slavery.  The newspaper was launched to serve black people and to counter the racism that usually appeared in the mainstream press.

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John Brown Russwurm, one of the free black men and the first African American college graduate in the US and Samuel Cornish, a Presbyterian minister were picked as junior and senior editors respectively. Freedom’s Journal became the first black-owned newspaper in the country. 

In addition to its staff and editors, the paper hired agents to manage its subscriptions. David Walker, who wrote a popular antislavery tract (1829) that encouraged enslaved black people to fight for their freedom was one of such workers. 

This four-page standard-sized publication, published every Friday in New York City served as an important medium for African Americans. Continue reading to discover what the first black newspaper in America meant to black people. 

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Built National Identity and Community 

Moment in Black History – Freedom’s Journal. Video Credit: @authormaureenanderson9151

Freedom’s Journal wasn’t a newspaper, but a tool for building identity and unity among black people. This four-column standard-sized publication covered international news and domestic news, featuring stories from the District of Columbia, Canada, Europe, Haiti, Africa (particularly Sierra Leone and Liberia), and even reached as far as Britain.

The paper’s wide range of story coverage helped broaden readers’ knowledge and began to change the isolation black communities usually faced. It also featured anecdotes, news of current events, and editorials. Plus, it was used to address contemporary issues such as colonization and slavery.

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Promoted Black People’s Achievements

This newspaper served as a valuable resource to black people. It covered house listings, wedding announcements, job listings, and inspiring stories of black achievement. For example, biographies of renowned black figures, such as poet Phyllis Wheatley and Toussaint L’Ouverture, the Haitian rebel leader, helped undoubtedly inspire most black readers and instilled a sense of pride.

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Tackled Critical Issues Facing the Black Community 

The paper’s editorials fearlessly condemned injustices, racial discrimination and using black people as slaves. They advocated for freedom and equal rights. 

John Russwurm and Cornish initially supported the American Colonization Society. But later distanced themselves from the movement because they feared that it undermined the fight for equality in the United States. The newspaper also constantly advocated for black people’s political rights.  

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Challenges of Freedom’s Journal

The Black Press: From Freedom’s Journal to The Crisis, Ebony & Jet. Video Credit: @BlackHistoryinTwoMinutes

Despite being a voice for the black community, Freedom’s Journal had its challenges. Financial issues and editorial direction disagreements led to Russwurm’s resignation in September 1827. 

Additionally, David Walker’s Appeal, a fiery abolitionist text, triggered controversy within the newspaper, leading to a period of editorial moderation. Within this period, Samuel Cornish became the sole editor of Freedom’s Journal, and the paper shifted its stance against the colonization movement.

Freedom’s Journal Lasting Legacy 

Although Freedom’s Journal was two years old, it stopped operating in 1829 just two years after its establishment, the paper’s impact was immense. It laid the foundation for the successful black press in the United States. The paper provided an important platform for black voices and was a powerful tool in the long quest for civil rights.

Today, you can still find Freedom’s Journal on microfilm at the Library of Congress and New York Public Library Digital Collections. This means that scholars and researchers can visit these pages to learn about the struggles and triumphs of black America during the early 19th century.

People Also Read: Who Started Slavery in Africa? The History and Facts You Probably Didn’t Know

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Uchenna Agwu
Uchenna Agwu
Hi there! I’m Uchenna Agwu, and I love to write. When I’m not writing, you can usually find me reading books or watching documentaries (I’m a bit of a nerd). But I also like to get out and explore – whether that means going on hikes or checking out new restaurants.

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