WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Black Press Week, the annual celebration of the nearly two centuries-old mission of Black-owned newspapers, will be fueled this year by the fact that the 183-year-old civil rights institution is continuing to plead its own cause even as it honors the achievements of others.

“When Mr. Russwurm and Mr. Cornish said, ‘We wish to plead our own cause. For too long have others spoken for us’, they began publishing the very first Black newspaper on March 16, 1827,” said Dorothy R. Leavell, chair of the National Newspaper Publishers Association Foundation, which leads the annual event in Washington, D.C. “It certainly is momentous because 183 years later, with a Black president in the White House, we still have to plead our own cause, as evident in the lack of meaningful outreach to count all African Americans in the United States in the census that’s now being conducted; it’s evident in many of the advertisers in this country who shun us even though we have strong economic impact upon the economy of the United States and the world… And even in this day and time, we are still an afterthought in the mainstream media.”

NNPA newspaper publishers, who over the past year have taken stands against what appears to be advertising discrimination in economic stimulus dollars, the automobile industry, the U.S. Census and other industries, will convene in the nation’s capital next week for the annual celebration of “pleading the cause,” a phrase first coined by John B. Russwurm and Samuel Cornish as they founded Freedom’s Journal, the first Black newspaper, in New York City.

Among those to be honored during the annual NewsMaker of the Year Awards Gala on March 18 at the Omni Shoreham Hotel are civil and social justice warriors Dr. Dorothy I. Height, chair and president emerita of the National Council of Negro Women, for her lifetime of civil rights achievements; Dr. Ron Daniels, president of the State of the Black World, 21st Century; Earl and Amanda Stafford of the Stafford Foundation and Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins for their outstanding community service; Rep. Barbara Lee, chair of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) will be awarded for her political leadership; and a posthumous salute will be given to entertainer Michael Jackson.

Height, among one of the most important figures in civil rights history, is to receive the lifetime achiever’s award at the NewsMaker dinner.

“She is a jewel in our community,” says Leavell, comparing her to famous publishers of old like Frederick Douglas and Ida B. Wells who were counselors to United States presidents. “She is still very vibrant, she is still a warrior and at 97 we are excited that she will grace us with her presence on that evening.”

A special State of the Black Press Address by NNPA Chairman Danny Bakewell will be given during a State of the Black Press Luncheon and Forum at the National Press Club, also on March 18.

The State of the Black Press event, which will feature Leavell’s response to the Blakewell speech, will also feature civil rights leaders from a broad spectrum of Black institutions to discuss the current mission and future of the Black Press. They are the Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr., Rainbow/PUSH Coalition; Dr. Julianne Malveaux, Bennett College; Dr. Ron Daniels; NAACP Chairman Roslyn Brock; Harry Alford, National Black Chamber of Commerce and Marc Morial, National Urban League.

With a new slogan coined by Blakewell, “The Power to Influence Black America,” as its backdrop, publishers will also meet with CBC and other congressional and White House leaders during the three days. The week will culminate March 19 with an annual enshrinement luncheon at Howard University’s Blackburn Center where Dr. Thomas Battle, retired director of the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, will be honored.

“We’re really excited. We have exciting plans,” says Leavell. “Our voice is still needed. How will our communities know what we are doing educationally and culturally and as entrepreneurs if it were not for the Black Press? In this day and time, it is just as important because otherwise stories about our communities, stories that involve our issues would still not be on the front burner.”


Hazel Trice Edney