African Americans in the History of Mass Communication

A Reader

by Clark Naeemah (Volume editor)
©2014 Textbook VIII, 178 Pages
Series: Mediating American History, Volume 13


African Americans in the History of Mass Communication offers a variety of stories focusing on how African Americans use the media to educate, advocate, empower, and serve others. Stories ranging from the Civil War to the Civil Rights Era, which include different forms of media from cinema and music to newspapers and public relations, offer perspectives that have yet to be told. The book’s concluding chapter includes personal accounts from several of its contributing authors detailing how they researched their chapters. These accounts offer questions designed to generate thought about scholarship and history. Students may use these anecdotes as guides for their own research.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction
  • A Few Words about the African Americans using the Media for Empowerment.
  • Notes
  • Chapter 1: Beyond Emancipation in the Pacific Appeal. a Black Newspaper on the Fringe of Civil War, 1862-1863
  • The Pacific Appeal
  • War and Slavery
  • Causes of the War
  • The Proclamation
  • Notes
  • Chapter 2: The Western Outlook
  • “A Journal Devoted to the Interests of the Negro on the Pacific Coast and the Betterment of His Condition”
  • Notes
  • Chapter 3: The Black Newspaper in Wartime
  • The Transformation of The Iowa Bystander
  • Notes
  • Chapter 4: “Activities Among Negroes”
  • Race Pride and a Call for Interracial Dialogue in California’s East Bay Region, 1920-1931
  • A Variety of Purposes
  • Illuminating the Invisible Class
  • The Progressive Era
  • Moving Between Worlds
  • Landing the Position as Columnist
  • Uplifting the Race
  • Columns’ Content
  • Highlighting the Role of Women
  • Conclusion
  • Notes
  • Chapter 5: When Hollywood Crossed the Color Line
  • Jim Crow Movie Censors and Black Audience Resistance in Greensboro, North Carolina, 1937-1938
  • Stereotypes as Media Invention
  • The ‘Vassar of the South’
  • Implications: “This Was the Beginning, Maybe”
  • Notes
  • Chapter 6: Insults for Sale
  • The 1957 Memphis Newspaper Boycott
  • Notes
  • Chapter 7: Dreaming of a Black Christmas and “What Is Best for Durham”
  • Strategic Advocacy During the Selective Buying Campaign
  • The Civil Rights Movement in Durham, North Carolina
  • The Selective Buying Campaign
  • The Role of Local Media
  • A Critical Press
  • Public Opinion Takes Shape
  • Standing Ground
  • A Black Christmas
  • Resolution and Change
  • Conclusion
  • Notes
  • Chapter 8: The Power of Soul Brother #1
  • James Brown’s Crusade for Societal Change
  • A Brief Biography ofJames Brown
  • Political Paradox
  • Boston Garden Peacemaker
  • Brown as the Pied Piper
  • Discussion
  • Self-Confidence
  • Man of the People
  • Magnetism
  • Contributing Factors
  • Notes
  • Chapter 9: Concluding Reflections on the Research Process
  • A Doctoral Student’s Thoughts on Conducting Historical Research
  • Questions
  • I think I’m finished...?
  • Questions
  • Using the Public Library as an Academic Tool
  • Questions
  • Reflections on the Research Process
  • Questions
  • Notes
  • Contributor Biographies
  • Newspaper Index
  • Index

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I thank all of the wonderful scholars that contributed to this book. It was a pleasure reading their well-told stories. I also thank David Copeland for his guidance in editing these chapters. Finally, I thank my twin sister Kamilah Clark for reminding me to not be afraid to create the life I want…and for sharing her puppy with me.

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WHEN I first began studying history and media, much of the content would focus on stories of Frederick Douglass’s The North Star, the Black newspaper Chicago Defender, or Berry Gordy’s founding of Motown Records. As researchers become more invested in the history people of color played in the U.S. media, the depth and variety of African American’s contributions to media history are being uncovered. My mission in compiling the following chapters is not to retell stories that have already been told, but to find significant moments, people, or events that are unknown. For example, few have heard of the subject of Venise Wagner’s chapter, Delilah Beasley, a woman who shared stories about the African-American community with White readers of the Oakland Tribune. Staying on the West Coast, Thomas Terry explores the dynamic coverage of San Francisco-based Black-owned newspaper, the Pacific Appeal, during the Civil War era. Again, these stories may not have been examined if not for these authors’ commitment to deepening what is known about African Americans’ contributions to media and history.

Not only do the following chapters offer new information about little known parts of media history, but I am pleased that the contributing scholars are from different stages of their careers. Lorraine Ahearn wrote about a boycott of a Greensboro, North Carolina movie theater while in a historical research course at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. My own contribution to the book, a look at James Brown’s advocacy efforts has been a pet project, seeing many changes in direction for the past eight years. ← 1 | 2 →

While the originality of the topics and diverse backgrounds of the authors was important as I found these chapters, I was also driven to find work that examined how African Americans were working in service of their own communities. Each chapter in this book offers a story where African Americans use the media to gain some type of empowerment. There is an element of advocacy and agency in each that is not always found in history books. Also, as you read you will notice the importance of community in making change throughout history. As I read the chapters, I was struck by the idea that groups of people working as a team is at the heart of making change. For example, in “Insults for Sale,” Thomas Hrach examines how a vocal group of African Americans worked to get Memphis newspaper The Commercial Appeal to address its community members with respect as a way to legitimize the people of color who were residents and economic benefactors as being consumers of the paper. In “Dreaming of a Black Christmas and ‘What Is Best’ for Durham,” Julie C. Lellis explains how a group of Durham residents used public relations strategies to institute economic reform in the city.

The book concludes with a few of our authors reflecting on their research process. For example, Kimberly Mangun (author of The Western Outlook: “A Journal Devoted to the Interests of the Negro on the Pacific Coast and the Betterment of His Condition) offers a detailed step-by-step discussion to how she approaches historical method. This and other chapters may serve as an effective tool as you consider your research projects. Each reflection also offers questions designed to generate thought about scholarship and history.

A Few Words about the African Americans using the Media for Empowerment

In his 2009 essay, Peter Kuryla found that photos, films, and television showed African Americans gathering in public squares and courtrooms standing and—in some cases—fighting for their rights. Kuryla suggests that the public knows far less about the context and roots of these efforts. Furthermore, there is much to be learned about how blacks skillfully used the media to tell their own stories and change their futures. The goal of the present text is to offer some readings that address how African Americans effectively used journalism and public relations techniques to find a voice for themselves.1

Self-empowerment activities led by African Americans tend to come in the form of grassroots efforts spurred on by those with little power, but with unending passion and energy. The determiners of an advocacy groups’ success are frequently membership size, organizational resources, leadership, political ← 2 | 3 → process experts, and motivational resources or followers. However, the adept use of the press cannot be understated. In Interest Groups, Lobbying, and Policymaking, Ornstein and Elder found that groups with money and groups without economic resources can and do compete on an equal footing, but often money is an important resource because it buys publicity with airtime and newspaper space.2 However, throughout history, people who were considered to lack power were able to gain considerable influence by using the media to organize and strategize.

Research done about advocacy groups find that there are patterns in the way people lead. For example, studies of the protest movements of the 1960s, found that college students were active in activities that largely required time and their bodies because they had limited financial resources to do large scale political activities. Arguably, the most well-known advocacy or pressure activities of the Black community took place during the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Studies of the sit ins in the South found that strong, active leadership, as opposed to large group members were assets to the organizations.3 In their article “The Ethnic Community Theory of Black Social and Political Participation: Additional Support,” Bruce Landon and John Hearn propose that one reason for demonstrable differences is that members of minority ethnic communities live with a race and class consciousness that members of majority communities do not face on a daily basis. As a result, there is an increased incentive to advocate for themselves. Furthermore, participation in community uplift efforts is not recreational or social; instead they intended to be dynamic and purposeful.4

Several of the chapters in this book include the advocacy efforts of African American women. Research finds that women offer their own approach to creating change. For example, scholars have found that women adopt different advocacy strategies than men when gaining and/or keeping the attention of those who can make change. In Nancy Naples’s Community Activism and Feminist Politics, a collection of historical and ethnographic essays illustrated that women lead differently from men because of their traditional societal roles.5 For example, one of Naples’s chapters assessed that women are more likely than men to perform the informal and invisible work of building networks linking them together. Women who lead these groups create a “web of solidarity” within these groups.

Janet Flammang found that women’s family experiences give them distinctive leadership identities because they can defy state interests in order to bring a familial identity to politics.6 It is this maternal thinking (derived from the practice of mothering) that causes women to aim their attention to the ← 3 | 4 → preservation, growth, and acceptability of the child. This “motherwork” can be considered empowering and challenges the entertainment media stereotype that portrays the African American woman as a neglectful parent.7

While the roles of mothers cannot be understated, the power of celebrity is a moving force as well. Celebrities (especially Black females) have been found to use their fame and notoriety to attract the public’s attention to a specific cause. Talents such as poet Maya Angelou and singer Nina Simone used their fame and unique styles to share their causes with the world.8

There has been shown to be a marked different in the way Black and mainstream press influence the public. Black readers turned to the Black press to find a more accurate reporting of their community. Mainstream media tended to ignore the specific issues of the Black community; as a result, the Black press became a reliable source for African Americans looking to share information about a relevant cause.9 Furthermore, the news media served as a way learn about protests in cities across the country.10 This coverage inspired those in smaller towns that were not considered the center of the civil rights movement.11

During the civil rights movement, groups used all aspects of the media (including popular and trade press) to get their message of fair business practices to the public. An analysis of the public relations activities during this period shows that the press was used to raise money, establish legitimacy, recruit members, agitate the powers that be, and advocate for causes.12 The black press has long been credited with reflecting the lives, current events, and the interests of African American readers. Where mainstream media would offer none of limited access to issues related to the black community, the black press and its journalists were assets to the community because of their experiences and journalism skills. In the late 1800s, African American newspapers such as the Cleveland Gazette, the Indianapolis Freeman, and the Richmond Planet used pictures and illustrations to demonstrate the horrors of lynching to the public.13 For example, in the 1940s, the NAACP used the black press of Louisiana to strategize an end to discriminatory practices.14 Similarly, Susan Dente Ross found that the NAACP skillfully used The New York Times to advertise their cause to mainstream audiences between the years 1955-1961. Placing the advertising in the national paper helped to legitimize and mobilize the effort across the country.15

All of the chapters in the book offer contextual and background information that frames their respective stories, but the above summation may further inform your reading of the upcoming chapters. ← 4 | 5 →


1 Peter Kuryla. “Parties Down at the Square amid Courtroom Melodramas: A Reconsideration of the Modern Civil Rights Movement Demonstration.” Patterns of Prejudice, 43, no. 1 (2009): 17–40.

2 Norman Ornstein and Shirley Elder, Interest Groups, Lobbying, and Policymaking. (Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly Press, 1978).

3 Kenneth T. Andrews and Michael Biggs. “The Dynamics of Protest Diffusion: Movement Organizations, Social Networks, and News Media in the 1960 Sit-Ins.” American Sociological Review 71 (Oct2006): 752–777.

4 Bruce Landon and John Hearn. “The Ethnic Community Theory of Black Social and Political Participation: Additional Support.” Social Science Quarterly 57, (March 1977): 883–891.

5 Nancy Naples, ed., Community Activism and Feminist Politics (New York: Routledge, 1998). Munro, L. (2001). Caring about blood, flesh, and pain: Women’s standing in the animal protection movement. Society & Animals 9, (1), 43.

6 Janet A. Flammang, Women’s Political Voice: How Women are Transforming the Practice and Study of Politics (Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, 1997).

7 Cooper, Camille Wilson (2007). School Choice as “Motherwork”: Valuing African-American Women’s Educational Advocacy and Resistance International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education (QSE), 20, 5.


VIII, 178
ISBN (Softcover)
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2011 (September)
media Civil War music public relations Civil Rights
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2014. 188 pp., num. ill.

Biographical notes

Clark Naeemah (Volume editor)

Naeemah Clark received her PhD from the University of Florida in 2002. Currently, she is teaching in the School of Communications at Elon University, where she focuses on the area of media and entertainment. Prior to coming to Elon, Naeemah worked at Kent State University and the University of Tennessee.


Title: African Americans in the History of Mass Communication