The year 1827 saw the first African American owned and operated newspaper called Freedom’s Journal, which operated out of New York. The paper was founded by Rev. Peter Williams, Jr., and other free black men, with John Russwurm and Samuel Cornish working as senior and junior editors respectively.
Despite its mere two-year life span, Freedom’s Journal had a profound impact. Its aim was to discuss issues that mattered to the black community and counter the racist commentary of mainstream media. According to Black Past, a subscription to the Journal cost $3 per year and, at its peak, it circulated in 11 states, as well as the District of Columbia, Haiti, and parts of Europe and Canada.
Freedom’s Journal provided its readers with regional, national, and international news and with news that could serve to both entertain and educate. It sought to improve conditions for the over 300,000 newly freed black men and women living in the North. The newspaper broadened readers’ knowledge of the world by featuring articles on such countries as Haiti and Sierra Leone. As a paper of record, Freedom’s Journal published birth, death and wedding announcements. To encourage black achievement it featured biographies of renowned black figures such as Paul Cuffee, a black Bostonian who owned a trading ship staffed by free black people, Touissant L’Ouverture and poet Phyllis Wheatley. The paper also printed school, job and housing listings.
By late 1827, however, friction developed between Russwurm and Cornish due to differing opinions over the American Colonization Society’s desire to emigrate freed slaves back to Africa. Cornish, who did not support the idea proffered by the mostly white organization, resigned as editor. Because the idea was also unpopular with readers, the circulation of Freedom’s Journal stalled before coming to an end in 1829.
Soon after, Russwurm, who was born to an English father and enslaved mother, moved to Liberia where he became governor of its Maryland Colony of emigrants. In an effort to breathe life back in Freedom’s Journal, Cornish began publishing the paper under a new name, The Rights of All, which lasted less than a year. He later became an integral part of the interracial American Anti-Slavery Society.
By the start of the American Civil War, more than 40 newspapers were black owned and operated.