By: Rebecca S. Jones
HOUSTON - "If I didn't know no better and believed the image portrayed of Black folks, when I watch the 6 or 10 o'clock new - I'd be scared of you Negroes too," says Publisher Roy Douglas Malonson. It is no secret that rugged depictions and stereotypical assumptions featuring African-Americans, often consume televised reporting networks to present a generalized view of the Black community. Nevertheless, it is the role of the Black Press to honor the proclamation notated in the first African-American newspaper, "Too long have others spoken for us... We wish to plead our own cause."
Origination of the Black Press
The Freedom's Journal was the first African-American newspaper in the country. It was formed in New York by John Russwurm and Rev. Samuel Cornish, who were two African-Americans on March 16, 1827. The journal included: foreign and domestic news, editorials, biographies, births and deaths and advertisements within the Black culture. During the era the newspaper was published, slavery had yet to be abolished. Blackpast.org informs that the publication presented, "Editorials deriding slavery, racial discrimination, and other injustices against African-Americans were aimed at providing a counterweight to many of the White newspapers of the time period which openly supported slavery and racial bias." Although Freedom's Journal was only in circulation for two years, it heavily impacted the African-American community and inspired the emergence of many other Black publishers, such as: Frederick Douglass, Philip Alexander Bell, John Mitchell, Jr., Anthony Overton, Robert Lee Vann, Marcus Garvey, John H. Johnson, Fleming Alexander and a long list to follow.
Frederick Douglass was one of the most instrumental figures in the history of dominating the Black press. He was a self-liberated slave from Maryland. After learning the alphabets from his slave master's wife, he taught himself how to read and write. Early in life, he sought out an escape from the bonds of enslavement, a mission he accomplished by the age of 20, when he fled to the North. During the Civil War, he strongly opposed slavery and women's suffrage. On December 3, 1847, he published The North Star, an anti-slavery newspaper in Rochester, New York. The name of the paper reflected the North Star which slaves used as a guide in the night to lead them to freedom. Its motto was, "Right is of no sex-Truth is of no color-God is the Father of us all, and we are brethren."
In the first issue of The North Star, Douglass stated his purpose for establishing the newspaper. He expressed that it was, "common sense that those who suffer injustice are those who must demand redress and, thus, African-American authors, editors, and orators must have their own paper with which to share their voices." Content such as: slavery abolishment and political issues, editorials, letters from readers, poetry, book reviews and advertisements were produced in the periodical. Though popular in its time, the newspaper did not generate enough to self-suffice. The financial strain resulted in a merger between The North Star and Gerrit Smith's, Liberty Party Paper, which created the Frederick Douglass' Paper. After dedicating nearly 12-years as a publisher in the Black Press, Douglass permanently ceased the publication when he left for a lecture tour in England. However, the journalistic podium that he created for himself paved the way for a foray into politics. To this day, Douglass is known for his works with President Abraham Lincoln, which produced the Emancipation Proclamation.
The Role of the Black Press in Our Society
As time progressed and the Black press continued to evolve, scores of African-American newspapers and journals were birthed. It has been proven that each century in American society, yields some form of unbalanced treatment amongst the Black community. During the afflicting days of slavery, reconstruction, Jim Crow laws, segregation, the Civil Rights struggle and other hurdles, the Black press has been an influential platform which has served to bring awareness and empowerment to members of the African-American community. Even today it serves as a catalyst to speak out for those who have no voice. It has continued to provide a view as to where we come from, things we have overcome and issues that we face today. James Baldwin once said, "If you know whence you came, there is really no limit to where you can go." This is the importance of newspapers such as ours and other Black press publications.
We live in a culture where many publishers capitalize off of the circulation and benefits that the Black Press possesses; yet many are not a true inclusion by definition. For our understanding, Roland Wolsely defined certain criteria that a publication must meet to be an established member of the Black Press. He explains in The Black Press that, "Blacks must own and manage the publication... they must be the dominant racial group connected with it... The publication must be intended for Black consumers... a magazine or newspaper for Black citizens which deals with their interests and concerns and is not primarily for Whites. The paper or magazine must serve, speak and fight for the Black minority."
African-American News & Issues, 23-Year Journey
In the mid 90's, chairman of the Acres Home Citizens Chamber of Commerce, Roy Douglas Malonson along with wife and partner Shirley Ann, sought after a publication that would be by the people and for the people. Pursuant, Roy contacted several existing Black newspapers, at an attempt to produce and generate a quality newspaper that would cater to typical residents of the African-American community; most of whom were often overlooked in other publications. Despite his continued efforts to work with pre-established publishers to create a true Black paper with a Black voice, none were interested.
Determined to provide the community with a newspaper that would give African-Americans a genuine platform, the Malonson's created the Acres Home Citizens' News, locally published by Malonson Company in February of 1996. The paper developed an audience as the "official voice of Acreage Homes reporting on schools, churches, businesses and community." Within four months the community periodical was noticeably a rampant success. The name of the paper was changed to reflect the accurate name of the community, Acreage Homes Citizens' News. In September of 1996, the name of the paper was changed to Citizens' News which expanded its circulation from the Acreage Home Community to include other Black communities in North Houston including: Bordersville, Carverdale, Trinity Gardens, Independence Heights, Scenic Woods and Settegast. As the newspaper was in its developmental stages it underwent various styles, designs and formats which can be visibly noted from the premier introduction of the first volume up until its current style and design.
Another name change was implemented into the publication that began to make its presence known within Houston's North side. In February of 1997 the name was changed from Citizens' News to Acres Home Citizen with an emphasis of being the link to North Houston African-American communities. In May of 1997, due to the rapid demand for such a unique style of publication, the company initiated the inclusion of a much broader spectrum. As a result, the paper that had been originally formatted and designed to target the Acreage Home community upgraded its name to reflect its circulation area and ever-growing audience. Thus, African-American Neighborhood News evolved. As the paper continued to thrive in its enhancements, the need to report news within the Black community proved to be beneficial towards the ultimate focus of its design. However, the company soon realized that not only was 'news' pertinent to the Black community, but the issues that consumed it were just as vital. This concept produced, African-American Neighborhood News & Issues, a format which presented coverage of: injustices, accomplishments, acknowledgements and recognition to members of the African-American community that were not featured in other publications
In October 1997, the Black Neighborhood Marketplace was introduced. This feature was an added avenue to local businesses and organizations to link the community to their locations. The newspaper started out as a monthly publication, transitioned to a bi-weekly edition and necessity made it weekly. As the newspaper continued to increase its presence in Houston, the name was changed to African-American News & Issues to suit the expansion of the circulation that followed. Within a matter of four years the once community paper had become one of the widest circulated and read newspapers' in the State of Texas with a Black perspective; increasing its audience to over a million readers. Over the years, African-American News & Issues has maintained a reputation that has allowed its readership to be informed of entertainment, educational, local, state, regional, community, religion, community news and events and a wide range of other resourceful information. Although African-American News & Issues has seen a variety of changes, the main objective that Roy and Shirley envisioned has not ceased. African-American News & Issues has never neglected its key vision and mission of reporting and presenting current and historical realities affecting our communities. The 23-year mission and commitment established by Publisher Roy Douglas Malonson continues, "Our paper will keep dealing with injustice until it is balanced."
The Need to Embrace
Anytime news is disseminated by broadcast media, newspapers and other outlets, there is a certain protocol established through the networks, sponsors, advertisers and investors of the entity. In most cases, these agents aim to present material in a way that will appease their viewers and audiences, while satisfying the expectations of their perspective advertisers and investors. Unfortunately, the inclusion of addressing hapless issues relevant to the African-American community are, least likely to be on the agenda for many mainstream media channels and sadly a good many of our "so called" Black publications. Nobody or nothing should be able to influence the Black paper, including money. There are numerous Black-owned newspapers, but not all of them live up to the true creed of the Black press; especially those owned by people who do not look like us. The need to address and highlight the issues that pervade our community should be top priority for every true African-American publication. Our publisher remains committed to dealing with the deeply rooted issues of our people, no matter the cost. He says, "If advertisers want to reach Black folks and they ain't doing nothing derogatory, well we the only game in town - but if they want to tell us what to do then, they can keep their damn money. A lot of these Black-owned papers won't deal with the issues because they don't want to offend their advertisers and lose a penny." As he continued he echoed the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. King affirmed that, "Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter."
It is imperative that we tell and present our own story, because no one is able to tell it the way that we can. After all that we have endured and the current challenges that we are yet faced with, we have a right to tell our own story, since rightfully its ours to tell. Most people that document history do it in a way that will make themselves and/or their cultures look good or to uplift their own. African-Americans should be no exception to the rule. In a recent interview with Shepherd Manson B. Johnson, Jr. (Holman Street Baptist Church), he offered words on the need to embrace the Black Press. He said, "African-American News & Issues is on point to R-I-G-H-T the story - to give the right news because you can't believe everybody's news. The person behind the pen writes the story like they see it, the same with textbooks and it all depends on who wrote it. I'm appreciative of Roy Malonson and African-American News for helping the understanding of the Black masses in understanding many public policies (local, state and national), and to be an interpreter. The person that intrigued me most about the Black Press was Frederick Douglas. He convinced me that 'Black press is not an option, it's a necessity.' You must have a tool to express your freedom. I would say African-American News, continues to do for us, what many of us have not done for ourselves - that is to catalog and chronicle events of people's lives that make a difference. The idea of Black press must not be treated lightly. We must take hold to it and view the Black press as necessity, not an option and we need to put it where it needs to be on the totem pole of our future."