Cover

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Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-iv

Contents

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pp. v-vi

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Acknowledgments

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pp. vii-x

I first thank those who sacrificed so I could write—my wife Lisa, daughters Emma and Melissa, and parents Fred and Brenda.
I also thank those who improved what I wrote. During my journalism career, my writing and reporting benefited from working alongside numerous editors, reporters, and photographers. I particularly owe gratitude to Kevin Ellis, Earl McDaniel, Mark Di Vincenzo, and Dave Hendrickson. When I transitioned to higher education, conversations with professors and students at the College...

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Introduction: Political Pressures and Black Newswriting

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pp. 1-13

Marvel Cooke, a newspaper editor whose friends included leading civil rights activists and Harlem Renaissance writers, protested in the streets and in print during the Great Depression for better pay and employment conditions for herself and other black workers. Locked out of the New York Amsterdam News in October 1935 for attempting to unionize the newsroom, Cooke and other journalists picketed eleven weeks for better pay and better hours. As Cooke marched, an article she cowrote with activist Ella Baker appeared in the Crisis, the influential journal on race relations published by the National Association...

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1. “Negro Subversion”: Solidifying a Militant Press

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pp. 14-40

Week after week, postal censors and military intelligence officers read black newspapers from around the United States, riffling through pages for seditious statements as American soldiers fought and bled and died in boggy European trenches. They believed the editors and reporters who criticized the nation’s practices of racial oppression during World War I threatened to undermine the morale of African Americans called to support the war effort despite racism’s injustices. In private meetings and personal letters, censors attempted to intimidate editors, warning them of the fines and jail sentences they faced if...

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2. Enter the “New Crowd” Journalists

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pp. 41-62

Wallace Thurman, a novelist, editor, and failed publisher, launched in November 1928 what he described as “an independent magazine of literature and thought.” He called it Harlem: A Forum of Negro Life. In his first (and next-to-last) editorial, Thurman criticized an older generation’s spent reportage as “nothing else but preaching and moaning.” For Thurman, modern black journalism was inextricably linked to the sensibilities of the “New Negro”—that idealized figure symbolizing the forward-looking African American forged from the dissonance of twentieth-century industrialism, urbanism, and mobility. Thurman urged...

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3. Popular Fronts and Modern Presses

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pp. 63-88

Throughout the spring and summer of 1935, Italy’s fascist dictator Benito Mussolini amassed an army on Ethiopia’s borders in anticipation of invading one of the last independent nations on the African continent and forging a runtsized Roman Empire. A hemisphere away, up-and-coming heavyweight boxer Joe Louis, an Alabama sharecropper’s son who grew up in blue-collar Detroit, polished his undefeated record and maneuvered for a title shot. Week after week, stories about Ethiopia’s plight and Louis’s fight dominated the front pages of black newspapers across the United States. On the night of June 25, before a...

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4. The “New Crowd” Goes Global

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pp. 89-116

In the months after Japanese pilots bombed Pearl Harbor and thrust the United States into World War II, 29-year-old publisher John Sengstacke moved to protect the Chicago Defender against accusations of wartime disloyalty. He met in private with top federal administrators, hoping to forge a “cooperative relationship” with them. Sengstacke knew these men could cripple the Defender by censoring stories, suspending mailing privileges, withholding paper rations, forcing employees into the draft, and charging him with sedition. He intended to forestall such penalties. Again and again, in one office and then another,...

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5. “Questionable Leanings”: The “New Crowd” Driven Out

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pp. 117-151

Frank Marshall Davis, who had recently published his third book of poetry, left Chicago with his wife in December 1948 for a Hawaiian vacation and decided to stay. Davis was a staple in black journalism, working as executive editor and columnist at the Associated Negro Press (ANP). He wrote about music, literature, sports, theater, and politics. During World War II, he increasingly paired his championing of antiracism with zealous advocacy of trade unionism, arguing class inequality reinforced white supremacy. He openly praised the Soviet Union, criticized politicians and journalists who red-baited their adversaries,...

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6. Black Power Assaults the Black Newspaper

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pp. 152-179

A 23-year-old Black Power activist known for exclaiming, “Burn, baby, burn,” H. Rap Brown fed a relentless media frenzy in the summer of 1967 by provocatively welcoming the riots that scorched black neighborhoods in Detroit, Milwaukee, Newark, and elsewhere. Brown was virtually unknown when he was elected in May to lead a radicalized Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). Just three months later, his name, words, and photograph appeared in newspapers and on television sets nationwide. By then, Brown awaited trial on charges of arson and inciting a riot in a troubled city on Maryland’s Eastern...

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7. Into the White Newsroom

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pp. 180-206

When Ted Poston rejoined the New York Post soon after World War II ended, his peers lauded him as a trailblazer—a journalist talented enough to write for a major metropolitan newspaper and resilient enough to withstand the daily slights that came with being the only black reporter in a white newsroom. By the 1960s, though, Poston wondered whether he should have done more to expose how his editors’ blindness to their racial biases shaped news coverage and hiring decisions. While African Americans had once applauded the liberal Post for simply writing about them, Poston warned of a “growing resentment in...

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Epilogue: A Crusade into the Digital Age

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pp. 207-212

The opening paragraph of the “Credo for the Negro Press,” penned in 1945 by the Norfolk Journal and Guide’s P. B. Young Jr., perfectly captured the essential perspective of black newswriting by joining two seemingly irreconcilable commitments—advancing crusades against racial injustice while maintaining journalistic objectivity. Commercial black journalists accomplished this task by broadening the professional meaning of objectivity. Their conception of fair news coverage rejected white society’s straitlaced acceptance of a segregated and discriminatory status quo in favor of reporting that invigorated the United...

Notes

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pp. 213-238

Bibliography

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pp. 239-258

Index

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pp. 259-268