by Cindy Hunter Public Historian, African American History Initiative Missouri Historical Society
Technology has transformed the way we communicate, and social media has become a tool for entertainment and a place to discuss important topics. Today we have Instagram and Facebook. But for much of the 20th century and beyond, African Americans relied on Black newspapers as a conventional way to communicate with each other due to the lack of coverage in other newspaper outlets. This allowed Black people to be informed across rivers and railways and within Black churches, clubs, and other fraternal organizations.
African Americans were dedicated to producing their own newspapers to emphasize racial pride, promote Black businesses, and recognize important and everyday people of their time. Some of the early St. Louis papers included the St. Louis Palladium, National Tribune, Pythian Voice, and American Eagle, which were founded in the late 1800s before St. Louis Argus and the St. Louis American.
Though all these newspapers were influential for African Americans, let’s consider the St. Louis Palladium, a weekly publication founded by J. W. Wheeler in 1884. Wheeler considered himself “the Palladium man” and “one of the most conservative and fearless editors.” A 1907 article mentioned that “among the Negro race he stands for the high moral standard of his race,” adding that he “strikes at everything that is wrong and degrading, let the chips fly where they will.”
Wheeler worked with other supporters of the Black newspaper to assist with production. In 1905, readers of the St. Louis Palladium could find several contributors, like editor Kate Johnson, assistant editor Isabella Morgan, secretary Olivia Richardson, and C. H. Tandy, the general reporter, collector, and solicitor. Patrons of the paper at that time could retrieve a copy at several locations: 2617 Lawton Avenue, 2614 Stoddard Avenue, 319 North Jefferson Avenue, and 211 North Jefferson Avenue. Annual subscriptions were $2, while one copy could be purchased for $0.05 cents.
Black newspapers served many functions, and there were ongoing debates about it within the St. Louis Palladium. Wheeler and other contributors of the paper saw it as “An Afro-American newspaper, published for the good of the race.” It was because of these conversations through the medium of newspapers that African Americans could continue to discuss racial relations. As one article detailed, “Newspapers mold sentiment for good or evil. Then the Negro inhabitant of this country should look to our people and the Negro papers to dispense news and information.” In addition, a columnist described, “All we want is a chance to show our ability, and that is what keeps most of the race question before the world today.”
When we think about the transmission of ideas, important news, and entertainment, it was Black newspapers that provided ways to communicate information, entertain, and advise the Black community about key topics. For example, on July 16, 1904, the St. Louis Palladium republished an article called “Abandon Meeting at Fair” about discrimination at the 1904 World’s Fair. The executive committee of the National Association of Colored Women had planned to host their convention at the Fair, but Booker T. Washington’s wife vehemently disagreed. She indicated that “the exposition directors had discriminated against Colored women in the matter of securing employment on the grounds and against the race in general.”
Hallie Q. Brown, an African American elocutionist who specialized in public speaking and became the president of the National Association of Colored Women between 1920 and 1924, attempted to seek employment and even asked to receive service at a restaurant at the 1904 World’s Fair and was denied both times. When a vote was held to determine the location for the session, delegates voted to move it to St. Paul A. M. E. Church on Leffingwell and Lawson Avenues.Black newspapers remain vital to the circulation of ideas, news, and coverage of their community’s growth. While the St. Louis Palladium is no longer in print, the St. Louis American, which was founded in 1928, continues to serve as a key staple for the African American community in St. Louis. The St. Louis American is currently the single largest weekly newspaper in the entire state of Missouri.