The Black Press in Mississippi, 1865-1985

Julius E. Thompson

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"An important work, particularly in its revelations on themes, sources of financing, and the editorial bent of newspapers and the broadcast media. It fills a key void in press history in its analysis of this nation's black press."--Karen F. Brown, The Poynter Institute, St. Petersburg
In spite of the historical conditions of poverty, illiteracy, and fear that have prevailed in Mississippi, blacks in the state have struggled to create a viable press that would record their world view. From Reconstruction to the present, the black press has been a major institution in their effort to secure freedom and equality. This work, the first complete treatment of the journalism experience of blacks in a single state, documents all the known examples of the black press in Mississippi from 1865 to 1985, including newspapers, newsletters, magazines, and radio and television.
Born during slavery--when blacks exchanged information through music, myth, and religion--and growing out of necessity during the Civil War, the black press in Mississippi developed into a conservative, marginally relevant institution by the turn of the century. Thompson examines its period of vigorous growth in the twenties, its decline during the depression, and its precarious balance in the 1960s: if black press publications and reporters appeared to be too conservative, the civil rights movement denounced them; if they appeared to be too radical, the police, Ku Klux Klan, and White Citizens' Council abused them, sometimes with arson, bombings, or beatings. All black journalists had reason to fear the state's Sovereignty Commission, which could and did curb and coerce the press. Though more black newspapers existed in the state in the 1960s than at any time since the twenties, the decade of struggle took its toll. With the death of Martin Luther King and the freedom movement's geographic shift to the North, the era gave way to disillusionment in the seventies.
The black press in Mississippi continues to struggle, week by week, to stay afloat, Thompson says, while the white press--competing successfully for advertising dollars--maintains a generally conservative stance on the social, political, and economic matters of greatest interest to blacks. He concludes that the challenge that confronted the black press in the last century looms into the next.
Julius E. Thompson teaches in the Black Studies Program and the History Department at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale.

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... a major contribution to the intellectual history of African American studies, American studies, and Southern historical studies.
--Journal of American Culture

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