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Portraits of Success

Impartial Citizen Founded 1849

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Founded in February of 1849 by Samuel Ringgold Ward, a fugitive slave and staunch abolitionist, the Impartial Citizen, was "designed to aid in the elevation of the Free Colored People, and to support and urge the doctrines of a Righteous Civil Government...." Ward, who knew and admired Frederick Douglass as a fellow fugitive from slavery, considered the Impartial Citizen as somewhat of an auxiliary to Douglass' North Star. In preparation for the Citizen's move from a semi-monthly to a weekly paper in June of 1849, Ward advised his readers that the newspaper must have a minimum of 1500 paid subscribers at one dollar a year, a figure that he soon found too low to support the paper adequately. The usual edition of the paper included exchanges, a few ads, some verse, organization reports, texts of addresses, editorials, and letters to the editor. Ward was among the leading advocates of emigration schemes to Canada and the West Indies, and co-founded, with Mary Ann Shadd, the Provincial Freeman in 1853, a paper devoted to promoting Canada as a refuge for American Blacks in the United States.


Mirror of Liberty Founded 1839

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The first magazine-type publication edited and owned by Blacks and aimed at Black readers, the Mirror of Liberty was published sporadically in New York City by David Ruggles from 1838 to 1840. Modeled after the Freedom's Journal, the paper pledged to avoid in its pages "the greedy appetite of scandal and abuse," while "fearlessly attack[ing] vice and immorality, in high places and in low places." Ruggles, the son of free Blacks, was born in Norwich, Connecticut, but lived for most of his life in New York City, where he ran a Temperance Society grocery, a printing business, a reading room, and a bookstore. He actively assisted fugitive slaves and stopped more than once the kidnapping of free Blacks into slavery. Ruggles helped organize the New York Committee of Vigilance, which assisted more than 600 fugitive slaves; and his newspaper functioned as the Committee's official organ. It championed, among other issues, trials by jury for those Blacks accused of being runaway slaves. Ruggles' ill health ended the Mirror's publication in 1840, but he continued his work in numerous contributions to anti-slavery journals and newspapers until his death in 1849.

Mirror of the Times Founded 1857

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Founded by two African-American businessmen, Mifflin W. Gibbs and James Townsend, the Mirror of the Times, appealed to a small community of African Americans in California as a weekly newspaper. Its first editor was the African-American writer William H. Newby. The only Black newspaper in the Bay Area at the time, it gained national attention with its staff of over 30 corresponding editors and subscription agents. The driving force behind the newspaper was owner Gibbs, a free-born Philadelphian who went to California seeking gold in 1850. A devoted abolitionist, participant in the Underground Railroad, and friend of Frederick Douglass, whom he accompanied on a statewide tour of New York in 1849, Gibbs had little tolerance for the way Blacks were treated in a new, so-called "free state." He used the Mirror to chide fellow Blacks into confronting the restrictive "Black Laws" of California. In 1857, Blacks from all over the nation attended the California Colored Convention in response to the publicity given it by the Mirror. Gibbs made a fortune in the clothing and dry goods trade, real estate speculation, and transportation, both in California and British Columbia, Canada. After the Civil War, he moved to Little Rock, Arkansas, where he continued to prosper in business and politics into the 1880s.

The North Star Founded 1847

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The most influential Black newspaper published before the Civil War was the North Star, founded and edited by Frederick Douglass on funds raised in England. It took its name from the lodestar that runaway slaves used to guide them in traveling North to freedom. It began as an alternative to White abolitionist papers, principally William Lloyd Garrison's the Liberator, differing with Garrison over the use of political means and even violence to end of slavery. Printed weekly and presenting a staunchly antislavery stance, the paper nevertheless featured open dialogue about all aspects of abolition and civil rights for Blacks.

In a pamphlet introducing the paper, Douglass presented his goals: "The object of The North Star will be to attack slavery in all its forms and aspects; advocate Universal Emancipation; exact the standard of public morality; promote the moral and intellectual improvement of the colored people; and to hasten the day of freedom to our three million enslaved fellow countrymen." Surprisingly, White readers were also attracted to the paper, and its White subscribers outnumbered Blacks almost five to one at its peak. While Douglass billed the North Star as an antislavery journal, it was not anti-White in sentiment. He said that his efforts "resulted from no unworthy distrust or ungrateful want of appreciation of the zeal, integrity, or ability of the noble band of White laborers." Eventually in 1851, The North Star merged with the Liberty Party Paper, renamed Frederick Douglass' Paper, which continued to be published until 1863.

Frederick Douglass was the most prominent Black American in the nation in the 19th century. Born a slave, he taught himself to read and write, organized secret schools for slaves, and escaped from slavery by masquerading as a free Black sailor traveling via train and steamboat from Baltimore in 1838. Thereafter, he made hundreds of speeches for the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society, often risking his life. His autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, published in 1845, sold over 30,000 copies in the United States and Britain in five years. His notoriety forced him to flee to Britain, where he remained for almost two years before returning to publish the North Star. Douglass wrote most of the articles and essays in the paper, making it a model of editorial quality. By the mid-1850s, the break with Garrison's "moral suasionist" branch of the abolitionist movement was out in the open, and Garrison scathingly attacked Douglass' belief in using politics and perhaps violence to end slavery. Also active in the Underground Railroad, Douglass hid numerous fugitives in his house in Rochester. In 1852, his novella, The Heroic Slave, glorified a bloody slave revolt; and later in the decade, he participated in the planning for John Brown's raid on the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia, secretly helping Brown raise funds in support of the plan. When Brown was captured, Douglass fled to Canada and then to England.

During the Civil War, Douglass pressured Lincoln to allow Blacks to fight in the Union army, openly supported Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, and worked feverishly to recruit Black troops and to pressure the federal government to end discrimination in the military. After the war, Douglass championed the cause of Black equality and lobbied for passage of the 15th Amendment, breaking with long-time supporters who refused to back the Amendment because it did not include women's suffrage. Over the next 20 years, Douglass spoke out against the increasing violence in the Jim Crow South and the movement to disfranchise Blacks. He also served during Reconstruction as president of the Freedman's Saving Bank, a federally chartered lending bank created to assist Blacks in making the economic transition from slavery to freedom. In the post-Reconstruction era, Douglass continued to support the Republican Party and was rewarded with appointment as the U.S. Marshall for the District of Columbia (1877-1881), recorder of deeds for the District of Columbia (1881-1886), and U.S. Minister to Haiti (1889-1891). When asked shortly before his death in 1895 what advice he would give to a young Black starting out in life, Douglass replied firmly: "Agitate! Agitate! Agitate!"

Black Enterprise Exclusive: Oprah Talks Business

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Oprah Winfrey gives an exclusive interview to Black Enterprise Editorial Director Sonia Alleyne, discussing her business beginnings, mistakes, lessons learned, and her defining philosophy that is inspiring future business moguls.

ImageIn be's June issue cover feature, "Oprah Means Business," Winfrey talks about the winning formula that has taken Harpo Inc. from a five-person production company to a 430-employee multimedia conglomerate that grossed $345 million in 2007 (No. 14 on the be Industrial/Service 100 list). Her leadership has broken down barriers; her business instinct is the stuff of legend; and her innovation unprecedented. She has spent her entire career beating the odds-and has inspired millions of business-minded minorities in the process.  Today, she is one of a handful of Black billionaires across the globe; her net worth estimated at $2.5 billion.

As the 54-year-old dynamo prepares to unveil the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) in 2009-in which she will hold a 50% stake-she asserts that divine inspiration, not strategic planning, is the key to her company's success: "I haven't planned one thing-ever. I have just been led by a strong instinct, and I have made choices based on what was right for me at the time."

Winfrey admits to learning some hard lessons as a result of her nontraditional approach to business. Starting with just five employees, she got along for years without management controls or development programs to grow talent as she grew the business. "For too long, I operated this business like a family. After a while, you can't see everybody; you can't talk to everybody," she says. "And now you have people managing people who were never managers before."  She didn't realize how much the company's rapid growth was taxing her staff.  During that time, the nationally syndicated superstar was still making lunch runs because the rest of her staff was tied up with booking and producing tasks. For years, Winfrey's team prided itself on being a lean operation. In the process, she discovered that this strong work ethic also contributed to mass burnout.

As Winfrey progressed, she learned another vital lesson-that she is her own best counsel. At the beginning of the decade, veteran TV executive Geraldine Laybourne decided to start Oxygen, an independent cable network for women. To make the venture work, she courted Winfrey as an investor. Winfrey recalls: "I went along with the Oxygen plan because my lawyer at the time, and lots of other people around me said, ‘How are you going to let there be a woman's network and not be a part of it?'"  The network struggled with programming and branding, and Winfrey eventually reduced Harpo's programming commitment. "It was an ego decision and not a spirit decision, which is how I make all my decisions," she says. "The only decisions that get me in trouble are ego decisions."

Winfrey's brand of leadership demands that nothing be taken for granted. "I don't yell at people, I don't mistreat people, I don't talk down to people.  So no one else in this building, in this vicinity, has the right to do it," she states emphatically. "Treating people with respect is the most important thing to me. It's not just talk." That creed-both inside and outside the organization-is a large part of her legacy. She has developed a series of ventures through a variety of media platforms to communicate her guiding philosophy of dignity, purpose, and empowerment. "Television is the most powerful medium we have," she continues. "The Internet is close and there will be a hybrid of the two at some point. But that medium inside the home to communicate with people, that visual medium ... is the most powerful thing you can have. That is an enormous amount of influence."

 As the distribution contract for her show terminates in 2011, Winfrey looks forward to building OWN and promises that it will be more expansive than anything she's ever developed. "My intention is for it to live beyond me, for it to be a living network of possibilities for people in their own lives," she explains. "To be able to say that my life was used in service, to help people come to their highest potential-I would do it even if my name wasn't attached to it."

The complete exclusive interview with Oprah Winfrey can be found in the June 2008 issue of Black Enterprise on newsstands now.

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BVN National News Wire