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The Afro-American Newspaper Goes to War

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The Afro-American Newspaper Goes to War

The Baltimore-based newspaper The Afro-American has been in existence since 1892 under the proprietorship of the Murphy family, and by the 1940’s had forged a place at the forefront of African-American journalism. The newspaper is still in business today and is online at www.afro.com. Founded by John Murphy, a former slave, the Afro-American has grown from a church weekly to one of the nations leading black newspapers. The newspaper has used it’s column inches to campaign for the civil rights of African-Americans throughout the 20th century, from opposing the persistence of racist “Jim Crow” laws in the South to defending eminent figures such as W.E. DuBois and Paul Robeson during the McCarthy-era anti-communism of the 1950’s.[1] During World War 2, when the U.S. military was still segregated along racial lines The Afro-American sent correspondents to cover the fighting alongside the various black American units that served in both the European and Pacific theatres. These men and one woman were relaying to an audience of Maryland and Washington D.C. African Americans the roles fulfilled by black American troops, fighting in a segregated military abroad. The primary impact of black and white Americans serving together was to be felt socially in the post-war years. The Civil Rights movement that gained momentum in the 1950’s owed much to the fact that many people engaged in war work during the 1940’s, who in peacetime would never interact with one another on grounds of race, were challenged by their shared wartime experiences.

“The common danger, the common foe and hardships of battle are bringing American troops closer together…Soldier after soldier has told me he can never be narrow-minded again after seeing such widespread human suffering.”[2]

Ollie Stewart, correspondent for The Afro American, 1944

Compared with the quality of contemporary reports filed by “embedded” reporters in the 21st century US military, filtered by both the Pentagon and major media networks, some of the copy from the Afro correspondents is surprising given the circumstances under which it was filed. Despite the circumstances of war the reports filed by Afro correspondents used a number of means to convey the reality of service in a segregated military without alarming the wartime censors, and did so with deep insight, humour and graphic accounts of the full spectrum of roles fulfilled by black service personnel.

The Correspondents.

Correspondents for the Afro American.
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