During Black History Month, people recognize well-known African American figures in history who fought for or took steps towards racial equality: Martin Luther King Jr, Malcolm X, Rosa Parks, Thurgood Marshall, Harriet Tubman, etc.
However, African-American journalists in history, although they contributed and still contribute today to change in society and politics, are not always given the recognition they deserve during this month. From the days of slavery in the United States to the present, below are some of prominent black legends in journalism.
Samuel E. Cornish and John B. Russwurm co-founded the first United States African American newspaper in 1827, titled “Freedom’s Journal”.
Cornish, free from his birth in 1795, wrote for “Freedom’s Journal”, “The Rights of All”, “Colored American” and “The Colonization Scheme Considered.”
Russwurm, besides being the second African American in the U.S. with a college degree, was junior editor of “Freedom’s Journal”. He also lived in Liberia for much of his life, studying African languages and participating in journalism and politics there.
Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey, better recognized as Frederick Douglass, is known as one of the most well known orators and journalists of the 19th century.
Douglass was born a slave in 1818 Maryland. He taught himself to read and write at an early age before escaping slavery and starting his career as an author, orator and journalist.
Rochester, N.Y. is where Douglass established and ran his own anti-slavery newspaper, “The North Star,” which was one of the leading abolitionist publications of the 19th century.
The ideals and awareness that Douglass’s two published autobiographies and newspaper spread throughout the United States and Europe contributed monumentally to the abolitionist movement and fight for equality even into present day.
Ida Wells Barnett was born into slavery in 1862 Holly Springs, Mississippi before being emancipated at the end of the Civil War.
Wells Barnett started out protesting Jim Crow Laws through editorials she wrote under the name “Iola.” She also worked for “Free Speech and Headlight,” a Memphis black newspaper, advocating civil rights.
The wrongful lynching of three of Wells Barnett’s friends, Thomas Moss, Henry Stewart and Calvin McDowell in 1892, inspired her to become an anti-lynching activist.
In addition to anti-lynching, Wells Barnett fought for women’s suffrage. In her lifetime, she established the British Anti-Lynching Society and helped found the National Association of Colored Women and National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
Wells Barnett died in 1931.
Through her pamphlet, “Southern Horrors,” books, lectures and work as a journalist, Wells Barnett was an extremely influential figure in the United States’ early struggle for civil rights.
Malvin Russell Goode was a man of many firsts for African American journalists.
Born in 1908, he grew up in Homestead, PN.
Goode did not enter the journalism field until age 40. He worked for the “Pittsburgh Courier,” the highest selling African American newspaper in the U.S. at the time. He also did radio broadcasts, ran his own daily news show, and became news director of WHOD television station.
He became the United Nations reporter for ABC and first black news correspondent at ABC Television News when he was hired in 1962. From this job, he earned fame and respect in the journalism field.
Goode then worked overseas teaching journalism in Nigeria, Tanzania and Ethiopia before returning to the states and his job at ABC. He then retired in 1973.
Additionally, he was the first black member of the National Association of Radio and Television News Directors.
Goode’s presence in journalism helped ABC shift their focus from white issues to issues of underrepresented groups and minorities, inspiring other news sources in the same way. His work was also significant contribution to the Civil Rights movement during the 1950s and 1960s, covering important events like the assassinations of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr.
Ethel Lois Payne, born in 1911 Chicago, was considered “The First Lady of the Black Press” due to her many accolades as a writer, reporter and journalist.
Her first experience in journalism was an article written for the “Chicago Defender” concerning the racial discrimination in the U.S. military in Japan.
Payne then pursued global reporting, interviewing prominent figures such as John F. Kennedy, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr. and at-the-time president, Dwight D. Eisenhower. Her interview with the president changed how the White House addressed civil rights issues from then on.
Payne also worked for CBS News, becoming the first African American woman to be a radio and television commentator. In addition, she received the TransAfrica African Freedom Award and an award from the Capital Press Club.
Through the brave questions she asked throughout her career as a journalist and reporter, Payne brought attention to issues of discrimination and earned her title as “The First Lady of the Black Press.”
These are only a few of the African American journalists that deserve recognition, not just this month but all the time. All of these figures and more can be found in the National Association of Black Journalists’ “Hall of Fame.”
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