A Brief History By Armistead S. Pride and Clint C. Wilson II Excerpted from Pride and Wilson’s book, A History of the Black Press Published by Howard University Press (1997). Dr. Wilson, a Howard journalism professor, is director of the Black Press Institute, a program of the NNPA Foundation.

When John H. Sengstacke, then in his 30s and heir to the controlling fortunes of the Robert S. Abbott Publishing Co., sent out his call for a meeting of Negro newspaper publishers in Chicago for February 29 through March 2, 1940, he had in mind a conference that would give major attention to advertising, editorial, and newsgathering problems and would substantially recognize inevitable and omnipresent racial matters. It had been difficult enough in former years to bring together a common purpose a large representation of the men-and a few women-who made up the Black Press. Yet, except for a five-year period, the Black newspaper publishers and editors had some form of national organization ever since the first meeting in Cincinnati in 1875 called by ex-Lieutenant Governor Pinchback of Louisiana. Before the 1940 call by Sengstacke, Carl Murphy had stressed the operating economies to be derived from a cooperative association of publishers, but even the bait of cheaper engraving costs, exchange of news and pictures, and a central clearing house for publishing problems and ideas was insufficient to overcome the drawbacks of distance, travel expense, sacrifice of time, and questionable benefits of membership in an organization.

john_h._sengestacke The Negro newspaper had long proved its usefulness and its indispensability both for the Black masses and for the Negro elite. It had acquired a niche that the general press then had no interest in challenging and was, like its predecessors; the major dispenser of news and opinion for an isolated people. Other Negro groups had long since found the path to organization successful; among them were physicians, lawyers, clergy, land-grant college presidents, educators, musicians, and war veterans. The question was, ”Why couldn’t the publishers?” Sengstacke thought that the first step in joining hands was for Black publishers to get to know each other, and he said as much in his opening message at the first session of the 1940 conference. The meeting was, he said, designed for ”harmonizing our energies in the common purpose for the benefit of Negro journalism.” Sengstacke outlined the three-day program and left room for a catch-all item labeled ”business in general.” The newspapers represented at that first gathering included the leaders of the Negro fourth estate and three-fourths of the Negro newspaper circulation. Representatives from 20 commercial newspapers from all sections except the far western part of the country attended the Chicago conference.

Some of these newspapers included:

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Kansas City, Missouri

Louisiana Weekly
New Orleans, Louisiana

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Omaha, Nebraska

Metropolitan Post
Chicago, Illinois

Iowa Bystander
Des Moines, Iowa

Baltimore, Maryland

Minneapolis Spokesman
St. Paul, Minnesota

Saint Paul Recorder
St. Paul, Minnesota

Chicago Bee
Chicago, Illinois

Progressive Herald
Syracuse, New York

Chicago, Illinois

Memphis, Tennessee