Isiah “Ike” Jesse Williams III, lawyer, historian, community activist and former publisher of the Jacksonville Advocate newspaper. “Ike was a great historian and the best journalist,” said Gertrude Peele, a long-standing friend and state director of the National Council of Negro Women. “He loved Jacksonville and its people.”
Mr. Williams graduated from Edward Waters College and Florida Memorial College before earning his juris doctorate degree at Florida A&M University. He also received a master’s degree from Brooklyn (N.Y.) Law School and in the 1960s studied at the New School for Social Research and Xavier Institute of Labor Relations, both in New York City. Mr. Williams stayed in New York City practicing law for 10 years. Active in the civil rights movement there, he was an attorney for the Black Panthers and became friends with Malcolm X and Adam Clayton Powell.
Returning to Jacksonville in the early 1970s, he continued his community activism, serving on numerous boards and commissions dealing with equal opportunity. He provided positive stories about the African-American community when he founded the Jacksonville Advocate. He published the Advocate as a weekly newspaper for 30 years. Two years ago, his wife and two partners purchased the paper and renamed it The People’s Advocate, publishing on a monthly schedule. Mr. Williams also was a union organizer and helped form the Brotherhood of Black Firefighters.
A life member of the NAACP, a Mason and a founding member of the National Business League, Mr. Williams also valued preserving the history of the African-American community. He was an early member of the Jacksonville Historic Landmarks Commission and organized the Joseph E. Lee Library-Museum, which used to be housed on East 17th Street, near where its namesake had lived.
Lee, Jacksonville’s first black lawyer and the third in Florida, became the city’s first black municipal judge in 1888. Camilla Perkins Thompson, also a historian of Jacksonville’s African-American community, said Mr. Williams was the instigator in organizing a local chapter of the Association for the Study of African-American Life and History, which still meets regularly here. “Ike was long an advocate for studying our history,” Thompson said. The contents of the Lee Library-Museum have been disbursed among the Jacksonville Public Library, the Ritz Theatre and LaVilla Museum and a library in St. Augustine, she said.
Mr. Williams was the recipient of countless awards during his life, the latest being the National Whitney M. Young Lifetime Achievement Award presented to him in November by the Jacksonville Urban League. He also was the recipient of Florida’s Onyx Award in Communications in 2005.
A force in the publishing world and a member of Jacksonville’s black community, Harriet E. Singleton Williams was co-publisher of the Northeast Florida Advocate. She and her husband, Ike Williams, founded the Northeast Florida Advocate, a sister paper to The Jacksonville Advocate. Both papers focus coverage in Jacksonville’s black community.
Born in Gainesville, Mrs. Williams spent most of her life in Jacksonville where she graduated from Stanton High School. She worked at the Duval Medical Center and Baptist Medical Center where she became a licensed practical nurse. After spending 26 years at Baptist, Mrs. Williams married and began working in the publishing business, which she continued until she died.
In addition to serving as the chief executive officer of the Florida Advocate Publishing Co., which publishes both papers, Mrs. Williams was active in the Jacksonville community. She was a member of St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church, the NAACP, the Florida Chapter of the National Business League and the Southeast Black Publishing Association.
History of African American Newspapers
African American newspapers are those newspapers in the United States that seek readers primarily of African American descent. These newspapers came into existence in 1827 when Samuel Cornish and John Brown Russwurm started the first African-American periodical called Freedom’s Journal. During the antebellum South, other African American newspapers sprang forth, such as The North Star founded by Frederick Douglass. As African Americans moved to urban centers around the country, virtually every large city with a significant African American population soon had newspapers directed towards African Americans. Today, these newspapers have gained audiences outside of African American circles.
Most of these publications like Freedom’s Journal’s (1758–1799) were published in the north and then distributed, often covertly, to African Americans throughout the country. Blacks’ ability to establish many environments and black neighborhoods in the North led to the first wave of publications. By the 20th century, daily papers appeared in Norfolk, Kansas City, and Washington D.C.
In the late 19th century the main reason that the papers were created was for economic stability, and not for uplifiting. However, African Americans found both through African American Papers that were aspiring to fight oppression.
There were many black publications, like those of Marcus Garvey and John H. Johnson. These men broke a wall that let black people in the society, not only as criminals, but as successful human beings. The Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder is Minnesota’s oldest Black Newspaper and the United States oldest ongoing minority publication second only to The Jewish World.
The Future of African American Newspapers
Many Black newspapers that began publishing in the 60′s, 70′s, and 80′s went out of business because they could not attract enough advertising and economic decline. As of 2002, 2000 Black newspapers remained.
As of 2010 however, there has been a resurgence of online African American news organizations, most notably Black News, The Grio, and Black Voices. With the decline of print media and proliferation of internet access, more and more black news websites are popping up every day.
Historical Black Press Foundation
The Historical Black Press Foundation is an organization that represents and is focused on the Black Press. In 1827, a group of prominent, free African-American citizens from all around the eastern seaboard had a meeting in the New York home of Bostin Crummell. Among the many subjects discussed was the resounding need for a media outlet that would allow the African-American community to voice its views on various political, economical, and social issues. The end result of hours af brainstorming was the first newspaper written by and for African-Americans, “Freedom’s Journal”. The paper was edited by Rev. Samuel Cornish and John B. Russwurm.
During the more than 180 years since the debut of Freedom’s Journal, the Black Press has served as both a mouthpiece and bulletin board for the entire African-American community. In that time it has communicated the struggles and successes of the African-American community as a whole. Still with more work to be done, members of today’s Black Press continue to build upon the blueprint left by Pioneers like Robert S. Abbott, Frederick Douglass, Charlotta Bass, and Oliver Harrington.
In order to restore the Black Press to its honored tradition, an organization formally called the Historical Black Press Foundation, which is based in Washington, D.C., is working to improve the image of the Black Press by creating Web sites, publications and writing opinion editorials highlighting the accomplishments of the industry. Founded in 1999 for the efforts of a white paper written regarding the Digital Divide’s effects on Black media, the Historical Black Press Foundation was reorganized in 2000.
For the past five years, the Historical Black Press Foundation has grown to be the largest organization that represents and focused on the Black Press with ties to over 400 Black newspapers and magazines. The Black Press fosters dialogue between the mainstream media and minority news organizations, executives and professionals by producing the Who’s Who in Black Media directory which lists all of the nation’s Black newspapers and magazines. The Black Press makes up over 400 Black-owned newspapers and Black magazines plus provides services to over 2,000 Black authors. The Historical Black Press Foundation seeks to “enhance the Black Press through technology.”
Although newsroom diversity is a hot-button issue, there isn’t enough information available to companies, organizations or individuals regarding the Black Press. If your company has a press release that it wanted to send to the historically Black media industry, chances are that you wouldn’t know where to turn to get the directory information that you need. The Historical Black Press Foundation addresses these needs while turning a profit.
Market research for the Historical Black Press Foundation included conducting in person surveys about the number of people who read the Black Press, subscribe to their local Black newspapers, and the number of people who said they would read more Black newspapers if their publications where placed online, since the majority of the people surveyed indicated that they regularly use the Internet to read news. The Black Press continues to grow in respect by academics, media professionals and companies committed to diversity.
To help change the public image of the Black Press, the organization publishes:
- Black Press Diversity Career
- Black Press Magazine
- Black Press Week.com,.net, .org (weekly email newsletter)
- Black Press Travel
- Black Press Yearbook: Who’s Who in Black Media directory
Black Press Magazine
Known as “the official publication for media diversity,” Black Press Magazine has changed the way America sees the Black Press.
Published monthly, Black Press Magazine article topics have included:
- Tavis Smiley Fired by BET
- Moving Classified Ads to the Internet
- Chicago Defender Sale Finalized
- Inside the Urban Media Wars
- Media Hostages: Avoiding excessive media coverage in the DC Sniper Case
- Other important industry topics.
Black Press Yearbook
To ensure that the public and scholars could continue to find all of the Black newspapers and Black magazines, Black Press Yearbook: Who’s Who in Black Media was created. According to Editor and Publisher magazine, “the Black Press Yearbook fills a hole”. In addition to providing professional development, the Black Press gives exposure minority media executives, professionals and companies committed to diversity. Every September, the Historical Black Press Foundation produces the Black Press All Star Awards and Onsite Media Clinics. In September 2006, the Black Press inducted Gordon Parks and John H. Johnson into the Black Press Fallen Heroes Hall of Fame at the All Star Awards.
National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA)
The National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA), was founded in 1940 when John H. Sengstacke of the Chicago Defender organized a meeting with other African American publishers designed for “harmonizing our energies in a common purpose for the benefit of Negro journalism.” The group decided to form the National Negro Publishers Association. In 1956 the trade association was renamed the National Newspapers Publishers Association.
Today the NNPA is composed of more than 200 black newspapers in the United States and the Virgin Islands. They have a combined readership of 15 million and the organization has created an electronic news service, BlackPressUsa web site, which enables newspapers to provide real time news and information to its national constituency.
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.
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 angel costume ideas 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.
History of Black Press
In 1827 a group of prominent free African American citizens from states along the Eastern seaboard met in the New York City home of Bostin Crummell to discuss means to communicate their views on the various social, political and economic issues that commonly confronted them and their respective communities. Although Black citizens utilized the church and social and fraternal organizations as a means of collective expression and dialogue, the usual channels of public media — particularly newspapers — were denied to them. Exacerbating the problem was the fact that elements of the established press routinely denigrated African Americans in print, even to the extent of questioning both the integrity and morality of the entire race.
The most significant outcome of the meeting at Mr. Crummell’s house in the winter of 1827 was the decision to begin publication of the first newspaper produced by Black Americans, Freedom’s Journal. Two attendees at the meeting, Rev. Samuel Cornish and John B. Russwurm, became the paper’s editors. Although well intentioned white citizens sometimes defended the honor of African Americans in public forums, the editors of Freedom’s Journal proclaimed in the first issue, “Too long have others spoken for us .. . We wish to plead our own cause.”
During the 180 years since the appearance of Freedom’s Journal, the Black Press has chronicled and commented upon events as they have occurred and impacted upon African Americans. Throughout that time the Black Press has given voice to the struggles of African Americans as they have sought to overcome the effects of enslavement and discrimination to attain social equality — it has continued to “plead the cause.”
Over the years the list of contributors to the Black Press who have lent their talents as publishers, editors, journalists, columnists and cartoonists has included the greatest names in American history. Among them are Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. DuBois, Ida B. Wells Barnett, Langston Hughes, Romare Bearden, James Weldon Johnson, Mary McLeod Bethune and Daisy Bates.
In 1941, under the urging of John Sengstacke of the Chicago Defender, a meeting of leading Black publishers from across the nation was called in Chicago. Sengstacke said the meeting was designed for “harmonizing our energies in a common purpose for the benefit of Negro journalism.” At least one representative from 22 publications attended the meeting and the group decided to form the National Negro Publishers Association. In 1956, the trade association of the nation’s Black Press was renamed the National Newspaper Publishers Association.
Today the NNPA is comprised of more than 200 Black newspapers in the U.S. and the Virgin Islands. NNPA newspapers have a combined readership of 15 million and the organization has forged ahead into the digital age with the creation of an electronic news service and the BlackPressUSA.com web site that enables the Black Press to provide real-time news and information to its national constituency.
Thus, into the communication age of the new millennium NNPA – the Black Press of America — continues to fulfill the declaration set forth by Cornish and Russwurm: “We wish to plead our own cause.”