Freedom’s Journal, America’s First Black Newspaper, Has Roots in Lower Manhattan  

02/21/2024 in
Freedom’s Journal, America’s First Black Newspaper, Has Roots in Lower Manhattan  

The first Black newspaper in America is coming up on its 200th anniversary, and it has strong ties to Lower Manhattan. 

Freedom’s Journal, the first newspaper of its kind, published its inaugural issue on March 16, 1827 out of its offices in modern-day Tribeca. The paper was co-founded by the Rev. Samuel Cornish, who led the congregation at Shiloh Presbyterian Church (at today’s Frankfort and William streets), a hotbed of abolitionist activity and one of Lower Manhattan’s stops on the Underground Railroad. 

“We wish to plead our own cause. Too long have others spoken for us,” Cornish and co-founder John B. Russwurm, one of the first Black men to graduate from college in America, wrote in the first issue. Cornish and Russwurm kicked off the new paper the same year enslavement was finally fully abolished in New York state. The New York Times reported the paper was largely aimed at white readers, since Black literacy at the time was still low. 

The paper was meant to provide information on social movements and be an outlet for abolitionists — as well as to counter the bias against formerly enslaved people in mainstream newspapers at the time. Part of that effort included a section that printed only crimes committed by white people, as a push back against the connection between Black people and crime the editors saw elsewhere. It also ran classified ads containing listings for schools, jobs and housing, along with a section for birth, death and wedding announcements. 

But its main focus was on the abolition of slavery in the American South, and the end to racial discrimination in the rest of the country. 

The paper employed as many as 44 agents to go out and sell subscriptions, and made its way to circulation in 11 states and Washington D.C., with issues managing to reach Haiti, Europe and Canada as well. Freedom’s Journal published through 1829 and, despite its short life, is credited with paving the way for Black-owned news operations: by 1861, more than 40 Black-owned newspapers were in circulation in the country. 

You can browse the entire archive of all 103 issues of Freedom’s Journal here

photo: iStock

Tags: black history month

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