Terrorism in America has taken many forms- but by far some of the most heinous acts were endured during the Jim Crow Era when the use of lynching to dissuade African Americans from voting or even thinking about basic human rights became common practice. (Photo by AFRO Archives)

By Kara Thompson,
Special to the AFRO

For 130 years the AFRO has been a giant in the Black press, advocating for social justice in every form and giving voice to many movements. From civil rights to women’s liberation and LGTBQ+ freedoms, the AFRO has continuously strived for equality.

When the AFRO was founded in 1892, there was coverage of several issues that fell under the category “social justice.” An article from May 8, 1892, titled “Social justice is good” discussed how civil rights groups and labor organizations had been fighting for workers’ rights. It continued on to discuss how greater security and protection for workers, as well as more social spending by the government, can lead to economic growth.

Among racial justice and the civil rights movement, lynching was a form of racial violence used to terrorize Black residents in the American South and beyond. AFRO coverage of the Oct. 15, 1898 lynching of Wright Smith put a face and a story to the life that was brutally taken. The piece states that Smith was lynched in Annapolis, Md., and comments on the fact that the legislature had done nothing in terms of justice at the time the article was printed. The article also comments on the way the Baltimore Sun covered the lynching, and called the paper out for stereotyping Black people. 

Later, around the early 1900s, the National Negro Committee was created to help fight for civil rights. Their work, opinions, and conferences were all recorded in history by the AFRO. At the committee’s second annual conference in 1910, the right to vote was a widely discussed topic. The AFRO’s May article about the conference that year detailed what attendees said about disenfranchisement: Ida Wells Barnett, a famous journalist at the time, made a call for all Black people to be included at the polls, including women and poor White people. 

“Let us turn our attention to the practical task of finding out why it is the laws are not enforced, and how best to get an honest vote for every Negro, and far every ‘poor White man as well, who is able to meet the requirements, but who, for one reason or another, does not or cannot now exercise his rights….for true democracy is a spiritual relationship,” the AFRO quoted Wells Barnett saying during the conference. 

For more than a century the AFRO has covered the struggle for civil rights on the ground level. (Photo by AFRO Archives)

In the 1950s and 60s during the height of the civil rights movement, the AFRO wrote about many different important events that took place. A Jan. 15, 1950 article details the National Emergency Civil Rights Mobilization, who is attending, and what will be discussed. And in 1963, there was much written about the March on Washington, including information predicting turnout as well as what AFRO readers thought about it. 

More recently, the social justice coverage by the AFRO has focused on slightly different topics. Challenges to Oregon’s same-sex marriage ban in 2014 was written about by the AFRO, highlighting how same-sex couples were fighting for their equal rights. In May 2015, an article ran about the funeral of Freddie Gray, whose death put an international spotlight on Baltimore. And just this year, when Roe v Wade was overturned by the Supreme Court, the AFRO was there to give their readers a view from both sides of the debate.

Regardless of what people are fighting for, the AFRO has been there through it all, providing coverage, commentary, and explanations for readers. 

For the past 130 years, the paper has covered the major social justice movements and causes, helping to inform its readers and create real change. In the next 130 years, this will continue, as the AFRO ever evolves as the “Black media authority.”

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