Since the publication of Freedom’s Journal in 1827 in New York City, African American newspapers have had a long and impactful history in the United States. Begun as a platform to decry the treatment of slaves, the earliest African American newspapers appealed to whites, who were politically enfranchised.
After the Civil War, as newly freed African Americans claimed the right to literacy, the number of African American newspapers around the country grew exponentially and the editors began addressing blacks instead of whites. The number of African American newspapers grew steadily in North Carolina, reaching a peak during the 1880s and 1890s with more than 30 known titles beginning during that time. Papers turned their focus from slavery to a variety of subjects: religion, politics, art, literature, and news as viewed through the eyes of African American reporters and readers. Communication about black political and social struggles through Reconstruction and, later, the Civil Rights movement, cemented newspapers as integral to African American life.
The longest running African American paper established in North Carolina is the Star of Zion, originating in Charlotte in 1876 and still being produced today. Other long-running papers in the state include the Charlotte Post (begun 1890), The Carolina Times (Durham, begun 1919), the Carolinian (Raleigh, begun 1940), Carolina Peacemaker (Greensboro, begun 1967), and the Winston-Salem Chronicle (begun 1974). Many of these long running papers powerfully documented black culture and opinion in North Carolina during the 1960s-1970s, with numerous editorials and original reporting of local and national civil rights news.
Occasionally overlooked sources for African American newspapers are North Carolina’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) and, before integration, African American high schools. You’ll find links here to newspapers from eight of North Carolina’s twelve current and historical HBCUs as well as two African American high schools.
For this exhibit, we’ve included newspapers available through DigitalNC that (1) are or were edited and/or published by African Americans (2) for an African American audience (3) documenting the specific news and interests of that community. Our site also includes anti-slavery/pro-freeperson newspapers which may be of interest, such as the North Carolina Christian Advocate.
While many African American newspapers have found their way into archives and libraries, it’s common to see broken runs and many missing issues. You can find a great inventory of known papers from the UNC Libraries. If you work for a library, archive, or museum in North Carolina holding additional issues and would like to inquire about digitizing them and making them available online, please let us know.