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The legacy of Central Florida’s black press

The voice of the voiceless



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The discrepancies between the two stories of the Ocoee Massacre were – and to some degree still are – typical when white, mainstream publications reported on black communities. According to the National Newspaper Publishers Association, a trade association for the 200 existing black newspapers operating in the United States, it was once customary for the white-owned press to malign the black community. So in 1827, a group of free African-Americans met to discuss the need for a publication that advocated against slavery and countered the one-dimensional, racist narratives that were common at the time. That year, they founded the first African-American periodical in the country, called Freedom's Journal.

"We wish to plead our own cause," the Journal's editors, the Rev. Samuel Cornish and John B. Russwurm, wrote. "Too long have others spoken for us. Too long has the publick been deceived by misrepresentations, in things which concern us dearly."

Leading editors and contributors to the black press, like Frederick Douglass, Ida B. Wells, W.E.B. Du Bois and Langston Hughes, advocated against slavery, Jim Crow laws, lynching, and later on, segregation. For 126 years, black journalists like Zora Neale Hurston documented the joys and tribulations of black families, friends and neighbors living in Central Florida and beyond, capturing the humanity often ignored by mainstream publications that often used slurs and derision to describe black people. Local African-American newspapers provided a forum for discussion of the social, political and economic interests of the black community while also acting as a catalyst for progress in Orlando and nearby cities.

Headlines of today may differ, and mainstream newsrooms may be more diverse than ever, which may lead some to think there's no need for publications that cater solely to African-Americans. Although the media market is constantly changing, and it can be a struggle for publishers to keep newspapers alive, there are still a handful of black newspapers operating in the Orlando area.

With smaller staffs and fewer advertising dollars, Central Florida's black press delivers news for African-Americans beyond the "pathologies and exceptions," as The Philadelphia Tribune managing editor Irv Randolph calls it, for a more complete and nuanced picture of everyday life in black communities. In other words, African-American communities still need the kind of voice that only the black press offers.


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