ALL THE BLACK PRESS NEWS THAT'S FIT TO PRINT...
The COVID-19 pandemic has put a number of Black newspapers under extreme financial strain. For more on the specific challenges facing the Black press you can read this recent op-ed I published in the Washington Post about the role of Black publications as outlets for public health information. There's no real way of sugar-coating it - the pandemic will leave many Black publication out of business or irreperably weakened.
However, amid all the doom and gloom there are some positive stories. One can be found at the Wilmington Journal, one of North Carolina's oldest Black newspapers, which recently took major steps in securing its immediate future by purchasing its long-time Seventh Street home in Wilmington. A GoFundMe titled "Save the Wilmington Journal" was set up in December 2020 by Dorian Cromartie and Deborah Maxwell, citing the need for a boost in financial aid "due to COVID-19 and many other hardships the paper has faced." Cromartie and Maxwell contended that as a vital community anchor, the Journal "is more than worthy to receive support from the people it has so diligently served." A significant number of people clearly agreed - as of the publication of this blog post, the GoFundMe campaign has raised nearly $35,000, with more than 400 individual donors.
In February 2021 the campaign received an additional boost through an eight-hour-long telethon hosted by Freedom Way Ministries, where local hosts and guests entertained viewers and laid out the Journal's rich history and continued importance to local Black communities.
The combined success of the GoFundMe and the telethon has raised more than $95,000; an amount that will allow the Journal to purchase its building at 412 South 7th Street outright, and will also allow for some much needed repairs.
The Journal building on 7th Street in Wilmington, NC. Matt Born/StarNews
Thomas Jervay, the paper's publisher and long-time owner, was understandably heartened by the display of public support. Jervay declared that “I personally view this as a turning of the corner for North Carolina and Black newspaper publishing...the telethon has shown state and national support for the Journal’s continued existence. It has a wonderful history of going to bat for not only the people of Wilmington, but also African Americans around the state and nation. That commitment was mirrored by the many folks who came forward to make this a success.”
The campaign's success is a telling reminder of how important building ownership and/or control is to securing the short and long-term future for Black publications around the country. This is particularly resonant for the Journal, given its own fraught building history. Over the years the newspaper's offices have been subjected to countless attacks, most notably a dynamite attack in 1973 which almost destroyed the property.
A few weeks ago the Amsterdam News offices in Harlem began to draw attention for some striking additions to its exterior. It's not the first time that the building has become the canvas for a public art installation - a few years ago this blog documented the work of Alexandre Keto which was added to its exteriors - although the more recent additions are significantly more political. The artwork is part of a larger installation project orchestrated by "People for the American Way", a progressive advocacy organization "founded to fight right-wing extremism and build a democratic society that implements the ideals of freedom, equality, opportunity and justice for all."
Coinciding with the 2020 presidential election, the Amsterdam News agreed to participate in PFAW's "Enough of Trump" campaign. The result: a 30 by 70 foot banner and mural covering almost the whole of its front facade and the building's north facing wall. The installation was created by Carrie Mae Weems, a former MacArthur Fellow and one of the nation's leading Black artists. Artwork by other artists is also featured, including pieces by Shepard Fairey and Angelica Muro.
PFAW president Ben Jealous, quoted on the organization's website, contended that "for an historic Black newspaper to blanket their building in Enough of Trump art...sends a clear message to the nation."
Amsterdam News publisher Elinor Tatum echoed these sentiments, contending that they were "thrilled to partner with People For the American Way and its ENOUGH of Trump campaign at this critical time. Given the stakes in this historic election, it is more urgent than ever to inspire voters to transform their dissatisfaction over the increased polarization of this country, and the racism that this administration is perpetrating, into votes on Election Day."
It's fun to see the Amsterdam News team continue their longer tradition of using the building in this way - a tradition which itself feeds back into the longstanding performative function of Black media buildings stretching back to the nineteenth century. It's also a reminder that despite the publication's somewhat diminished status, it remains an important Harlem landmark.
For more about the project and PFAW visit the organization's website.