This article by Timothy L. Ashford was first published on December 12, 2011. Its permanent link is here.)
“You are too black to practice law so get out of my courtroom and don’t ever come back, “ said the white Judge in a Chicago courtroom in 1898 to the new African American Kent Law School College Graduate Robert S. Abbot who bears a striking resemblance to comedian “Cedric the Entertainer.”
With those racist words, Attorney Abbott’s law career ended so he founded the Chicago Defender (Defender) on May 5, 1905, which he promoted as “The World’s Greatest Weekly.”
Starting out in a small kitchen in his landlord’s apartment, Abbott started with initial press runs of 300 copies and an initial investment of 25 cents. Abbott soon became a millionaire because his Defender was the first African American newspaper to have a circulation of more than 100,000. The Defender, with two-thirds of the circulation outside of Chicago, had a higher circulation than the other three white Chicago area papers in the early 1900s.
Black Pullman Porters who rode the train distributed the Defender in the south because racist white newspaper distributors refused to circulate the paper. The Defender would beat the white daily papers to many important news stories of that day such as invasions of other countries or business news because most white people in power felt extremely comfortable discussing important matters in front of the black “help” such as maids and butlers (and, of course, it was believed the “help” would give the story to the Defender through the Black Pullman Porters).
IN THE EARLY 1900’S BLACKS WHO COULD NOT READ BOUGHT THE CHICAGO DEFENDER TO SUPPORT THE PAPER. The Klu Klux Klan threatened the Defender readers and attempted to confiscate the paper to stop circulation of the Defender throughout the nation.
Southern States passed laws against the distribution of the Defender. The Defender was read aloud in barbershops and churches and passed from person to person. It is estimated that more than 500,000 people read the Defender each week. It was called the “Mouthpiece of 14 Million People” which was the population of blacks in the United States at that time.
The Defender started the Bud Billiken Day parade (based upon a character created by Abbott) in Chicago which is still one of Chicago’s favorite events to promote healthy values in children.
During World War I, the Defender declared May 15, 1917 the date of the “Great Northern Drive” and the “Great Migration.” It used editorials, cartoons, and articles to convince southern black readers to migrate to the North in record numbers to live a better life. Between 1915-1925, the Defender posted job listings and train schedules to facilitate the relocation of more than one and a half million southern blacks to migrate to the North with at least 110,000 relocating to Chicago between 1916-1918- which tripled the city’s black population.
The Defender covered the Red Summer Race Riots of 1919 by, among other things, publishing the exact number of whites and blacks killed in the riots. The Defender also campaigned for anti-lynching legislation.
Langston Hughes and Walter White were Defender columnists. Also, the early poems of Pulitzer Prize winning poet Gwendolyn Brooks were published in the Defender.
In 1948, editors at the Defender campaigned for President Harry S. Truman to integrate the Armed Services which was done shortly after their campaign.
In 1940, Abbott was the first president of the National Negro Publishers Association, which he founded, which is now the National Newspaper Publishers Association- an organization of approximately 200 African American publishers of newspapers across the country which includes this paper. African American newspapers, including the Omaha Star, in our country have a history of fighting for equality.
American race prejudice must be destroyed can describe the philosophy of both the Defender and this paper the Omaha Star. In 1938, the torch was passed from the Defender to the late Mildred D. Brown who founded The Omaha Star which has worked for equal rights for all Americans. Ms. Brown may be the first African American woman (if not the only African American woman) to have founded a newspaper in the nation’s history.
The Omaha Star gives a voice to the voiceless. It allows a diversity of editorial opinions such as articles by former State Senator Ernie Chambers, a variety of local as well as national writers and this paper allowed me to recently write a 20 part series explaining the case of the Omaha Two Political prisoners Wopashitwe Mondo Eyen We Langa (hereinafter “Mondo”) and Ed Poindexter. No other newspaper would allow the writers in this paper to write and express the thoughts of this community. Furthermore, for decades, the Omaha Star has provided jobs in this community.
If a company in Omaha does not advertise with the Omaha Star they do not SUPPORT you. If the companies do not support you, you should not support their business.
Some major companies in this city will not buy an advertisement with this paper but they will advertise in the white media. Those companies expect a lot of business from Blacks. Their philosophy is we are not going to advertise in the Omaha Star, which is the black weekly paper, but we want your black dollars.
If blacks who were threatened in the early 1900’s supported their paper, why can’t we support the Omaha Star? Now, in 2011 in Omaha, we have a paper which is invested in this community. Blacks in the civil rights movement in the 1960s supported other blacks. Blacks, who supported the Defender, in the early 1900s would not support a company today which did not support Blacks.
Since we now have a black president, the “integrated” Blacks in 2011in Omaha support companies which do not advertise in the Omaha Star, do not hire and promote Blacks, and do not support the Black community. Have we forgotten racism, the civil rights struggle and the economic disparity which currently exist in this city and nation? Supporting a black business such as the Omaha Star creates jobs in the black community.
Do not buy from a business that does not advertise in this paper. However, if you feel you must buy from a company who does not advertise in this paper, at least ask the management why don’t you advertise in the Omaha Star? After your purchase, please make a follow-up call, e-mail or write to that company to tell them to advertise in the Omaha Star.
Support those who support you- subscribe to the Omaha Star- give the Omaha Star as a gift- is stated repeatedly in this paper and I agree.
I practice what I preach. I own four Omaha Star subscriptions. Of course, only one paper comes to my office and the other three are sent to family members as a gift. I also advertise in the Omaha Star.
We can not afford to lose the Omaha Star because of a lack of economic support from this community. By supporting the Omaha Star, we support our community. We must support the Omaha Star!