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Publishers Urged to Preserve Records

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By Makebra M.  Anderson
NNPA National Correspondent

No list of Black Press giants is  complete without the names of  John Russwurm and Samuel Cornish of Freedom Journal, the nation’s first Black newspaper; Philip Bell of the Colored American and San Francisco Elevator and Martin Delany, co-publisher with Frederick Douglass of the North Star.

Appropriately, all have been enshrined by the National Newspaper Publishers Association Foundation (NNPAF) at Howard University’s Moorland-Spingarn Research Center. Now, that list must be expanded to include Mary Shadd Cary, who was enshrined last week in ceremonies at Howard during Black Press Week.

“Talk less and do more.  With these words, Mary Ann Shadd Cary admonished the male leadership of the abolitionist movement.  Those words are o­nly part of the legacy that this remarkable Black woman has left for succeeding generations,” Black Press historian and NNPA Foundation board member Clint Wilson told the audience before unveiling a plague honoring Cary.  “It is long overdue that we gather to acknowledge Mrs. Cary and enshrine her into the gallery of distinguished Black publishers.  She was a trailblazer as the first African-American female publisher.”

Cary was born a free Black in Wilmington, Delaware o­n Oct. 9, 1823. When the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act held out the possibility that free Blacks could be enslaved, Cary moved to Windsor, Canada, just north of Detroit.  An abolitionist, she edited the Provincial Freeman for displaced African-Americans living in Canada.

When she returned to the United States, she helped recruit African-American soldiers for the Union Army, became the first woman to enter Howard University’s law school and became the first woman to cast a vote in a national election.

At the ceremony, historian Thomas Battle encouraged publishers to archive their newspapers.
“If the materials aren’t preserved then they simply won’t be available for people to read, study and use for innovational value,” Battle, director of the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, told publishers.  “For individuals, you can’t write about somebody if you don’t have the materials documenting their life and for businesses, you can’t document their impact o­n society if you don’t have any records.”

According to Battle, Moorland-Spingarn has the largest archive of African-American newspapers and the center is often called upon by companies, organizations and individuals wanting to view Black Press history.

“At Howard University we have documented the Black Press, in a sense, since the conception of this institution,” he said.  “The relationship between Howard and NNPA [National Newspaper Publishers Association Foundation] is a joint endeavor where both sides realize the importance of collecting and preserving the materials documenting the Black Press.  If it had not been for the Black Press offering an alternative view or certainly supplementary information about the Black experience in America, we would not have some of the history books that we have or the perspective we have.”

The relationship between NNPA and Howard University is a long o­ne.  The Black Press Archive and Gallery of Distinguished Newspaper Publishers was founded in 1973.  William Walker, editor and publisher of the Cleveland Call and Post, first expressed the need for an institution to collect and preserve records related to the Black press. 

“The great benefit that the Black Press has offered is that it shows the world that we are something other than what the White press reported or something other than a criminal element in an American society.  You don’t find our great achievements o­n the front page of modern papers, but embedded some place else,” Battle said.

According to Battle, it would be impossible to honor women such as Cary without documentation.

''We also have to be mindful of not simply the importance of collecting and preserving the individual papers that we publish, but of the personal papers of individuals and organizational records that we have within our papers,” he said.  “When individuals come and want to discover certain facts about the news they want to see the newspapers.  When they want to discover the facts about those reporting the news they need your personal papers and your organizational records.”

Denise Rolark-Barnes, publisher of the Washington Informer,  admits that she has done a poor job of preserving copies of her paper, many of them still in boxes stored in her home.

“We have to find ways to digitize our papers,” she said.  “I pulled an article off the Washington Post the other day and it cost me $2.50.  There is money sitting in those boxes if we find a way to digitize them and make them accessible.  Other people are finding ways to make money off us, so we need to be doing the same thing.  We got gold sitting right under us and we’re abusing it.” Battle agrees.

“This is a plea from a historian about the larger importance of archival development that people might not think about.  If we are going to be in  a position to write about and promote what our history and culture really is we have to have the documentation—we have to have the facts.”

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