Black Publishers Told to Keep Pleading Causes Amidst Change
By: Hazel Trice Edney
Originally posted 1/30/2007
PHOENIX (NNPA) – Nearly two centuries since the founding of the first Black Newspaper, Freedom’s Journal, publishers of the National Newspaper Publishers Association, the Black Press of America, kicked off their 180th anniversary year hearing exhortations to continue pleading their “own cause” even though the battles have significantly changed.
“When we look at NNPA and all of the publishers, you’re our number one resource for finding out the real truth in our community and you are important to us,” says Thomas W. Dortch, president of the Atlanta-based 100 Black Men of America, Inc., among a string of noted speakers at the organization’s annual Winter Conference held in Phoenix, Ariz. “Unless they’re shooting somebody, stabbing somebody, cutting somebody, stealing from somebody, that’s the only time the other major press wants to write something about us. At least we can come to the Black Press and we can read about good things that are happening in our community…I want to say to you, Thank you. I want to also say to you, good is good but good means there’s room to be better and better means you need to be best.”
With that, Dortch exhorted NNPA, the nation’s largest membership of Black-owned newspapers with more than 200 publishers, to resist separatism among Blacks by closing ranks, fighting against ills within the community and remembering the global struggle.
“We will trust everybody else who doesn’t look like us, who doesn’t sound like us, who doesn’t have the historical perspective in life and the background that comes from the environment that we do. We will trust everybody else before we are willing to trust ourselves,” says Dortch.
A die-hard civil rights and economic justice advocate, who is a recipient of the Martin Luther King Jr. Distinguished Service Award, Dortch says social and political separatism in the Black community has become detrimental to progress.
“It is amazing how we get hung up on, ‘I’m not going to deal with him or her because they’re Republican or they’re Democrat or I’m not going to deal with him or her because she’s a member of Delta and I’m a member of Alpha and he’s Omega and there’s an AKA over here or whether they’re an Alpha or a Kappa.’ We let little stupid stuff separate us. In fact, the one common denominator that we all have is that we’re all Black and we aren’t like the rainbow. We come in different hues and all, but it’s not the color of your skin, but it’s what’s in here and what’s up here and how you use it,” says Dortch, pointing to his heart and his head.
When Samuel Cornish and John B. Russwurm founded the Freedom’s Journal in New York City in 1827, Black people were still in slavery. Therefore, when its inaugural article stated, “We wish to plead our own cause,” the paper was declaring its own First Amendment right to free speech.
While the mission of Black newspapers is still to expose social ills that stem from the vestiges of enslavement, Dortch, former state director for then U.S. Senator Sam Nunn (D-Ga.), warned Black publishers to avoid stories that exacerbate divisions between African-Americans and people of Hispanic and Latino descent.
“Instead of trying to fight people who’re trying to find a better life, I tell them I don’t have a problem with Hispanic and Mexicans coming into this country. But, I want to make sure that…sense you let the Cubans in, I want my brothers and sisters from Haiti to have an opportunity to come here,” says the Toccoa, Ga.-born Dortch, who is known as a champion for small businesses, people of color and other marginalized individuals.
Regardless of how many immigrants come, Dortch says the reality is that there is a clear plan that Whites never really lose control, therefore Black newspapers must be vigilant never to allow African-Americans remain complacent, he says. “I say these things because it’s not about hating anybody. It’s about understanding the reality and the responsibility.”
The 100 Black Men of America is a mentoring program aimed to improve life quality and opportunities for education and employment for African-Americans. Dortch, recently re-elected after serving 10 years as president, says Black newspapers must also fight against self-destruction in the Black community.
Having perused the front-pages of many of the newspapers on display at the conference, Dortch says he was pleased to see the significant attention to the disease of AIDS, which some 1.2 million Americans are living with, half of which are African-Americans, according to the Black AIDS Institute.
“I want to commend all of the papers that I’ve seen and those leaders in our community who keep sounding the alarm,” he says. Without Black newspapers continuing to educate on such ills within the community, more African-Americans will die, he says.
“We’re going to kill ourselves. Between the violence, between the health disparities and between the neglect in our communities, we’re going to just self-destruct. And so, I challenge you to deal with the issues,” he says.
“We have to understand that we have a responsibility. We have to make a difference. We have to invest the time and energy. But, we also have to understand that if we don’t, nobody else is going to do it.”
Black issues also stretch beyond America, reminds Dortch, imploring the publishers to be sensitive toward international trade issues.
“It’s you that we depend on because it’s you who have that power of the press, the pen, the truth, to circulate the truth, to make sure that we are enlightened and to also understand for each and every one of us that it’s not just about what’s happening in our neighborhoods. It’s about what’s happening globally that impacts our neighborhoods.”
He says Africa warrants special attention.
“They’re saying, ‘We need help in Kenya because we have to go through third party people to get our products to U. S. markets and the farmers only make 5 percent of the value of the crops that they grow,’” says Dortch. “And if you’re drinking Starbucks coffee, nine times out of 10, you’re drinking some Kenyan coffee that’s been used to cut other inferior coffee that they bought. And we think Starbucks is so great.”
Dortch says newspapers in general, including Black ones, don’t address those international wrongs nearly enough. “We sit around and don’t talk about those issues. Something’s got to give.”
Chicago Crusader Publisher Dorothy Leavell, chair of the NNPA Foundation, responded in closing remarks that she might be tired of marching, but felt like returning to the streets over the Kenyon coffee issue.
Taking such an overt stand would not be unusual for NNPA, Leavell says.
“NNPA came here years ago and heard about resistance to the Martin Luther King Holiday. We all came here; then we all packed up and went home,” she says.
Recognizing temptations by some publishers, who are also businessmen and businesswomen, to sacrifice truth for advertising dollars in order to survive, Dortch pleaded to never make that sacrifice.
NNPA Chair John Smith, a member of the 100 Black Men who met Dortch 37-years ago when they served on the board of the Atlanta Branch of the NAACP, called Dortch a “quiet giant with a vision to change the world for the better for all mankind.”
Dortch, also known for his stance along side Atlanta Mayor Maynard Jackson for significant Black economic participation in the construction and vending at the now Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, challenge the publishers to not back down from justice.
“I challenge you to be courageous. Write the truth even if the truth hurts. But, do it professionally, make it hard-hitting because it’s you and only you that we can depend on to get the news and get it right,” he says.
“And the minute that you sell your soul for the all mighty dollar is the minute and the very day that you really should pack your bags, close your operations and go off and find something else to do.”