The Afro American newspaper has had a long and interesting history spanning more than a century. This newspaper has been an essential resource for the study of the African American communities in Baltimore.
The Afro- American newspaper was the brain-child of a number influential African American men of Baltimore. The newspaper faced substantial economic challenges. During the latter part of the nineteenth century, 260 different African American newspapers were published throughout the United States. The abundance of newspapers in print resulted in limited circulation. Many of these newspapers failed because they did not have the capital to remain in print. Baltimore's Afro-American and Philadelphia's Tribune are the only two African American newspapers from that period still in existence.
Initially the Afro-American was known as the Home Protector which was established and edited by Reverend William Alexander in 1889. With the help of a group of investors, including John R. Cole, Charles H. Richardson, James E. Johnson, and William H. Daly, the Home Protector became the Afro-American on August 13, 1892. In the spring of 1895, the Northwestern Family Supply Company (NFSC), assumed control of the Afro-American. Although this seemed to be a turn for the best, that prominent business firm went bankrupt leading to near end of the newspaper. The machinery used to print the Afro-American went up for sale. John H. Murphy Sr., the head of the printing press at the paper, purchased the newspaper's printing equipment for $200. Since then, the Afro-American has remained in the hands and the hearts of the same family, the Murphys of Baltimore.
John H. Murphy Sr. was born a slave in Baltimore in 1840. After emancipation, he became extremely active with the Sunday School at Bethel A.M.E. Church. With his knowledge of the printing press gained from the newspaper, he published the Sunday School Helper and later The Standard. In 1897, Murphy used his skills to help re-establish the Afro-American newspaper. In 1900, Murphy collaborated with the Reverend George F. Bragg Jr., editor of the Ledger (another African American newspaper), and together they formed the Afro- American Ledger.
The Afro-American has long served as a window into the world of Black Baltimore. It provided an opportunity for African Americans in Baltimore to receive news concerning the African American community. The paper published upcoming activities and events, most of which would have been ignored by the main stream media. The newspaper provided work for African American printers, journalist, and other newspaper personnel who probably would not have been able to find work elsewhere. The Afro-American would later become one of the largest African American newspapers in circulation throughout the United States.
The Afro-American did more
than just report the news. The Afro-American's editors used
the paper's influence to shape the political and social order
of the African American community. The paper provided a medium for politically
active African Americans to voice their opinions concerning educational
affairs. The newspaper was a strong advocate of education and proper educational
facilities. The first editor of the Afro-American, William
M. Alexander, continually printed articles discussing the education
of African Americans across the nation. For instance, in the 1890s,
writers for the newspapers were not pleased with the fact that out of
twenty-two "Colored" schools only one school had "Colored" teachers,
and the remaining schools were run by all white faculty. Later,
W. Ashbie Hawkins wrote an article called "An Alarming Condition"
in which he criticized the school facilities, educational equipment, and
the short length of the school year.
During election years, the paper attempted to educate the community
about the political arena which surrounded them. The
Campaign of 1897 is a perfect example of the tremendous influence
the paper had on its readers.
The majority of the newspaper articles were written in an editorial rather than reporting fashion. One goal of the newspaper was to preach and reach the African American community through instructional columns. The articles covered a wide range of topics, focusing on child rearing, religious worship, and even etiquette. The newspaper hoped to ensure that its readers were the best representatives of the African American community. The paper's genuine interests in the well-being of its readers was obvious through out it's columns "Local News and Race Gleanings." These editorials were opinionated, yet sincere in their attempts to educate the community. The newspaper sought to ensure that although African Americans had only been freed from the bondage of slavery for thirty years, they still had opportunity to enter into mainstream society. These instructional and informative articles are what made the newspaper so popular in the community. They are also an invaluable resource for historians to learn about events, politics, and social values of the African American communities in the city once called "The Black Capital."
The Afro-American newspaper is the subject of Hayward Farrar's dissertation entitled "See What the Afro Says: The Baltimore Afro-American, 1892-1950" ( Ph.D. dissertation, University of Chicago, 1983). . The above is an abstract of the dissertation compiled by Jonelle E. Cruse and Chantale J. Joseph.
Through the Eyes of the Baltimore Afro-American