Date Awarded


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)




Kimberley L Phillips


Between 1877 and 1978, black reporters, publishers, and readers engaged in a never-ending and ever-shifting protest against American racism. Journalists' militancy oscillated as successive generations of civil rights activists defined anew their relationship with racism and debated the relevance of black radicalism in the fight for racial justice. Journalists achieved their greatest influence when their political perspectives aligned with the views of their employers and readers. Frequent disputes, though, erupted over the scope and meaning of racial justice within the process of reporting the news, compelling some writers to start alternative publications that challenged the assimilationist politics promoted by profit-minded publishers and middle-class community leaders.;This national network of news by, about, and for African Americans emerged in the late nineteenth century as the editor-proprietors of small, but widely circulated, newspapers defended the freedoms and rights gained during Reconstruction. In the early twentieth century, editors and publishers rushed to establish new publications aimed at African Americans leaving the southern countryside for urban industrial employment. Particularly in the North, many editors adopted militant editorial policies to win the loyalty of readers who might otherwise buy competing publications. During the interwar years, reporters and readers infused black journalism with an unprecedented racial militancy and political progressiveness by endorsing the politics and sensibilities of Harlem's radical orator-editors, New Negro authors and artists, and Popular Front activists. This style of racial advocacy extended beyond the restoration of civil rights as writers condemned Western colonialism, criticized American capitalism, and explored black separatism. During World War II, journalists' progressive outlook propelled black newspapers to their peak popularity and national influence.;By the early 1950s, the ascendancy of anticommunism moved publishers to jettison writers associated with the politics of anti-colonialism, anti-capitalism, and black separatism. They were replaced by younger journalists who accepted the narrower mission of fighting for domestic civil rights. In the 1960s, African Americans infuriated by the slow pace of desegregation accused commercial publishers of being too ready to compromise their militancy. Radical writers and editors tapped into this frustration by creating an alternative press that defined and debated the merits of Black Power. In the 1970s, journalists began to broaden the reach of black journalism by fighting to integrate white newsrooms. They ultimately transformed, albeit fitfully, how mainstream media covered and portrayed African Americans and other minority groups.;This dissertation complicates and challenges the historiography of black journalism. It supplants scholarship that depicts press protest as unchanging and driven by publishers by arguing journalistic agitation was continually reconceived by journalists and readers. It broadens the definition of who was a journalist by foregoing a narrow focus on the "black press" for a more inclusive examination of "black print culture." It characterizes black radicals and their publications as integral, not marginal, in shaping commercial black journalism. It argues the tenets of black journalism, while diluted, gained greater salience as black journalists integrated white-owned media.



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