Top left: The publishers, reporters, and photographers at the AFRO have long deemed voting crucial to Black liberation in America. Discussed here in an article by Larry Still, the article “Above All, Get The Ballot,” a piece on the importance of registering to vote and not giving in to apathy or Jim Crow’s violent fear tactics.Bottom left and right: The Baltimore AFRO American Newspaper celebrated 130 years of operation on Aug. 13, 2022. Throughout the decades, the AFRO has used articles, photos and cartoons to address political happenings. Shown here, the work of Kofi Tyus, who used the art of cartoon to address school shootings ten years ago.; Center and top right: In both 2008 and 2012 the AFRO covered the historic election of President Barack Obama. (Photos by AFRO Arhives)

By Tashi McQueen,
AFRO Political Writer,
Report for America Corps member

Long before social media and 24-hour news networks, there were newspapers keeping people informed. And long before voting rights and civil and human rights were affirmed for Black Americans- there was the Black press, updating and engaging African Americans on the war for equality and where they stood on the battleground. 

The AFRO American Newspapers was no exception- in fact, for many decades on the East Coast- it was the rule. 

Founded in 1892, John H. Murphy Sr. and his family ran the Baltimore AFRO American Newspaper from Charm City with a penchant for reporting on the nuances of Black life. But the paper did much more than cover births, deaths, scandals, classrooms, and churches- they also played a crucial role in politics as they kept the voting masses informed and aware of the powerful political ecosystem of Baltimore, Washington, D.C., and beyond.

“The Baltimore AFRO American Newspaper is one of those mediums that reported information about the Black community that you probably wouldn’t find anywhere else,” said David L. Reed, an assistant history professor at Bowie State University to the AFRO.

“The paper was founded during that post-reconstruction time period,” Reed told the AFRO. “Serious issues like lynching, voting rights, women’s rights, housing discrimination, political parties  –  were covered.”

“They are assessing the rights that are supposed to be guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution,” said Reed. “Are these things being carried out in real time in people’s actual lives – the answer was no.”

The Baltimore AFRO American Newspaper offered discussions on Black Republican delegates and the tension of their ‘race’ and their ideologies vs. Democratic representatives via “The win or lose battle” article in July 1928 by Roscoe Simmons.

The AFRO covered many historical moments, including the work of Martin Luther King Jr., and ensured civil rights incidents made the front page. The AFRO also went to great lengths to depict King’s humanity as the husband, father, and minister he was.

Also buried in the AFRO archives are articles on Watergate and Nixon’s resignation. In a 1973 article, the AFRO reported on the scandal at its height, detailing how Nixon’s “closest and most powerful aides” left their positions in the face of the scandal. It wouldn’t be the last political scandal covered. 

In 2008 voters chose Barack Hussein Obama as the first African-American president in the nation and in 2020 they elected a Black woman– Kamala Harris– to serve as vice-president of the United States. From Justice Clarence Thomas’ rise to political power to Trump, the AFRO has covered it all.

The publication’s commitment to reporting on politics stretches back 130 years, as the paper has always aimed to keep watch on laws passed by Congress laws and enforcement agencies’ broad surveillance powers.

“Mainstream newspapers are not going to talk about job discrimination, about certain people not being allowed to live in certain neighborhoods – Black men and women being lynched,” said Reed to AFRO. “I believe the purpose of the AFRO American Newspaper was to educate people.” 

Emmitt Y. Riley III, associate professor of Africana studies and political science at Depauw University, acknowledged how coverage of emancipation issues and racial politics, like the Black Lives Matter movement, has made a difference.

“The Black press puts pressure on national organizations,” said Riley.

Throughout the AFRO’s history, writers highlighted how an event impacted the Black community and gave a platform to those who were customarily looked over by mainstream media that majorly promoted White narratives and spokespersons.

“Sometimes people would read the Baltimore AFRO American at a barbershop,” said Reed to the AFRO. “The newspaper boys dropped off a bundle of newspapers people could read to become informed at these shops and salons.”

Though they may not have realized just how crucial they were, Reed says the AFRO paper boys and girls gave community members something to discuss and kept them informed.

[It] helped people become organized to take strong political positions throughout the City,” he said.

Today, the AFRO can be seen in the community leading gubernatorial debates, covering White House events, and endorsing candidates to help residents decide who should be getting their votes. 

Stay tuned as the AFRO continues to push political awareness and involvement in the Black community for the next 130 years and beyond!

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