Newswire : Black Press Exclusive: Dr. Lonnie Bunch’s African American Museum dream fulfilled

By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Correspondent

Lonnie Bunch with Benjamin Chavis

Dr. Lonnie Bunch III, the 14th Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, sat down for an exclusive interview with National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) President and CEO Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr., at the National Museum of African American History and Culture.
The two discussed Bunch’s timely new book, “A Fool’s Errand: Creating the National Museum of African American History and Culture in the Age of Bush, Obama, and Trump.”
“I [initially] saw this journey to build a museum that could help bridge the chasms that divide us as a ‘fool’s’ errand,’” Dr. Bunch said.
The book outlines the multitude of challenges Bunch faced when pursuing the construction of the historical museum. Those challenges included choosing the location; architect; design team; and the collection of unique pieces of African American artifacts. He added that the museum was “an errand worthy of the burdens.”
Available from Smithsonian Books on the organization’s website and at, “A Fool’s Errand” is a tour de force of Bunch’s personal and political accomplishments.
During the intimate video-taped interview inside the National Museum of African American History and Culture, the two visionaries also tackled topics that ranged from the Transatlantic Slave Trade, their shared North Carolina families’ histories, the writing legacy of author James Baldwin, and the contemporary vitality of the Black Press of America.
“The relevance and inclusion of the Black Press in events such as this one, show the continued significance of the Black Press,” NNPA Chair Karen Carter Richards, said after the interview between Chavis and Bunch.
“The Black Press is alive and well, and we will continue to be the daily recorders of our history across the globe. Although we’ve seen many changes within our industry; these changes are bringing better opportunities for the Black Press,” Richards said.“So, we are honored that Dr. Lonnie Bunch has chosen to include us as a part of this important national media event,” she said.
While in graduate school, Bunch desired to write a dissertation about the Black Press, he said. However, naysayers told him the Black Press was unimportant. He said that theory quickly was proven wrong. “I knew it was,” Bunch said.
“I think the Black Press has always been the guardian of our community. It’s always been the place where facts are found that are not told in other places. It’s a place where you can understand the richness of the community.
“What I love about the Black Press today is that it’s a place that reminds people of the power of the African American community… the Black Press is critically important.
“What [The Black Press] does is it reminds us that there are many different lenses to understand a story. If you don’t have the lens to the African American community, where are you going to find your story? For me, the Black Press is crucial not for the past, but for the future,” Bunch said.
Bunch said he sought out to obtain a building that would reference the spirituality, resilience, and hope that have been key elements within the African American community. Elements he said that have shaped America’s identity in ways most Americans do not understand.
He said the revolution in South Africa reinforced his belief that history is an effective tool to change a country by embracing the truth of a painful past.
The museum opened three years ago to much fanfare, with former presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush, among others, in attendance. “To some, visiting the museum allows them to find hope … that the current poisonous political partisanship and racial antipathy will one day be overcome,” Bunch said.
A historian, author, educator, and curator, Bunch has enjoyed a career of near unapparelled success. Bunch has held numerous teaching positions, including American University in Washington, D.C. (Bunch’s Alma Mater); the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth; and the George Washington University in Washington, D.C.
Bunch was elected in 2017 to become a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He’s also the recipient of the President’s Award from the NAACP, and the Impact Leader Award from the Greater Washington Urban League.
Last year, the Phi Beta Kappa Society presented Bunch with the Phi Betta Kappa Award for Distinguished Service to the Humanities and the National Education Association honored him with the Award for Distinguished Service to Education.
Earlier this year, Bunch was appointed Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, the first African American to hold that position in the organization’s 173-year history. He oversees 19 museums, 21 libraries, the National Zoo, numerous research centers, and several education units and centers.
Now, with “A Fool’s Errand,” Bunch said he has a simple message to convey.“History matters,” he told Chavis. “You can’t understand yourself or the future without looking back. History is an amazing tool to live your life. More than anything else, it challenges you to be accurate,”
Watch the full interview between Dr. Chavis and Dr. Bunch here at

Newswire : NAACP Board elects Mississippi’s Derrick Johnson to be its President, will work closely with Black press

By Stacy M. Brown (NNPA Newswire Contributor)


Derrick Johnson


The future of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) is inextricably linked to the future of African Americans and its incumbent upon the nation’s oldest civil rights organization to work with the Black Press to get that message out, said new NAACP President Derrick Johnson.
On October 21, the executive committee of the NAACP National Board of Directors announced that the Detroit-born Johnson would lead the organization as the president and CEO.
Johnson formerly served as vice chairman of the NAACP National Board of Directors and the state president for the Mississippi State Conference of the NAACP.
Board members said Johnson was selected to guide the organization through a period of reinvigoration and realignment with the current challenges of today’s civil rights movement.
To accomplish that mission, Johnson said the NAACP will lean heavily on the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA), the trade association that represents more than 200 African American-owned newspapers and media companies across the country.
“We must be successful to ensure that democracy works for all and that individuals of African descent are treated with dignity and afforded equal protections under the law,” Johnson told the NNPA Newswire. “We’ve met with [new NNPA Chairman] Dorothy Leavell and [NNPA President and CEO] Dr. Benjamin Chavis, Jr., and we see a bright future and we are mutually tied to the same reality, because the NNPA is critical, as the delivery source of information for our community.”
The fact that the NAACP chose Johnson to lead the organization was music to Leavell’s ears. “I believe he is the right leader for the NAACP at this most important time in our history,” she said. “The NNPA looks forward to working with him and the NAACP.”
Chavis, a former executive director of the NAACP, said he’s known Johnson for a long time and he’s confident that Johnson’s leadership expertise and experience will take the NAACP to greater heights in terms of membership and civil rights activism.
“If there was ever a person alive that personifies the living spirit of Medgar Evers, it is Derrick Johnson. Thus, the NAACP will grow and expand under the leadership of Derrick Johnson,” Chavis said. “Johnson personifies the courage and genius of a freedom fighter, who will now lead the NAACP forward with fearless boldness.”
For his part, Johnson, who received a juris doctorate from the South Texas College of Law, called the Black Press an under appreciated institution.
“It’s incumbent upon the NAACP to work directly with the NNPA to make sure that, as we get control of our narrative, we’re utilizing our most important tool, which is the Black Press,” Johnson said.
A veteran activist, Johnson, 49, said it’s also important that the NAACP engage and support young people. “We urge the young ones to keep studying and continue advocating to make sure their voices are not suffocated, because of a lack of knowledge,” Johnson said. “I’m encouraged by the number of young people who have taken to the streets with the tools at their disposal to become more active. If they find that the NAACP is a tool they’d like to use, then it is incumbent upon the NAACP to support their ability to do that, because the young activists of today will be our leaders of tomorrow.”
A regular guest lecturer at Harvard Law School and an adjunct professor at Tougaloo College in Jackson, Miss., Johnson previously furthered his training through fellowships with the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation.
As president of the NAACP Mississippi State Conference, he led critical campaigns for voting rights and equitable education, NAACP officials said in a news release. Johnson also successfully managed two bond referendum campaigns in Jackson, which brought $150 million in school building improvements and $65 million toward the construction of a new convention center.
In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, Johnson founded One Voice, Inc., to improve the quality of life for African Americans through civic engagement, training and initiatives, according to Johnson’s bio on the NAACP’s website. One Voice has spawned an annual Black Leadership Summit and the Mississippi Black Leadership Institute, a nine-month training program for community leaders.
“I really appreciate the support of the chair of the Board of Directors, who invested confidence in me to do this job,” Johnson said. “I think we have to control our narrative and tell our story, because we have units across the country that have been extremely effective in their work, but we haven’t been able to control the narrative.”
Johnson called controlling that narrative both a challenge and an opportunity. He said the NAACP is working diligently toward the 2018 midterm elections and making sure to tackle voter registration and issues that have worked to deny African Americans the right to cast a ballot.
“We have to figure out how to maximize the engagement of folks in our community to exercise their right to vote,” Johnson said. “We have a fertile and vibrant pipeline for young people to have a stronger voice in what’s taking place and, at the same time, we can support young people already out there advocating with the understanding that social justice is not a competition, but an opportunity for many individuals to add their voice for progressive change.”

The ‘Great Migration’ was a triumph of the Black Press

By Erick Johnson (From The Chicago Crusader, NNPA Member)


The Pittsburgh Courier’s circulation averaged 500,000 readers weekly during the Great Migration. (Pittsburgh Courier archives)

There were over six hundred Black families applying for 53 apartment units in just one day in Chicago in 1917. In two years, more than 100 storefront churches would dot the South Side. By 1930 the number would climb to 338. During that time, the Black populations of Chicago, New York, Philadelphia and other major northern and western cities would explode as thousands arrived by train almost on a daily basis. In these cities a Black middle class was established and the largest migration of Blacks in American history swept the nation.
Today, on the 100th Anniversary of the Great Migration, many Blacks in the Midwest and Northeast have parents and grandparents who migrated from the South. Because of direct train routes, Blacks in Chicago are more likely to have parents or relatives from Mississippi.  Blacks in New York and Philadelphia are likely to grandparents from South Carolina. The correlation exists also for other northern states that were accessible by direct routes that served their southern states.
Many left the South during the Great Migration, two periods in American history where the Black population dramatically shifted north and helped transform major cities in the Midwest, Northeast, and West. It’s also a period that gave birth to “Bronzeville” as a Black Metropolis, where thriving businesses, prominent writers and artists flourished during the Harlem Renaissance.
The force behind this movement was the Black Press. And behind the Black Press was the FBI and city officials who aimed to keep Blacks in their place.
Most Blacks who migrated from the South were poor Black men who temporarily left behind families while risking their lives for a future that was uncertain. Their wives and children would stay behind until the men would secure better paying jobs that would support their families.
With little money and the long journey, many did survive the trip. Others were not allowed to board the vehicles by racist train managers. Blacks who did make the trip experienced a side of America that was once off limits to them. Cities that flourished with economic opportunities and better captured the imagination of some six million Blacks, who for the longest time, yearned for prosperity and freedom.
They came from the South, a region whose economy was still struggling from the devastation caused by the Civil War and slavery. For thousands of Black families, jobs opportunities were few. The American dream remained distant and many could not read or write because of the lack of schools in segregated neighborhoods.
When several Black newspapers landed in the hands of many Black southerners, eyes widened and hopes grew. Headlines and stories that detailed the lives newly planted Black migrants triggered seismic migration and established the Black Press as a significant institution, one that would come under heavy scrutiny as it fiercely advocated the civil rights of Blacks across the country.
The Black Press was around long before the Great Migration, beginning with Freedom’s Journal in 1827. However, historians argue that the Great Migration was a major chapter in history that helped define the Black Press.
In Chicago, many Black men secured jobs as Pullman Porters, which historians say established the city’s Black middle class. Before the mass migration 67 Blacks worked in Chicago’s Union Stockyards, where they slaughtered and process meat and cattle. After the first migration, the number hovered around 3,000. Most Black Pullman Porters and Stockyard workers were earning higher wages than the jobs they left in the South. On the South Side, the editor of the now defunct Chicago Bee, James Gentry, first coined the named “Bronzeville” because of the newly arrived Blacks from the South. The Chicago Crusader, which originated in the Ida B. Wells housing projects in 1940, published stories that advocated more job opportunities and housing as more Black migrants arrived.
Other Black newspapers such as the Chicago Defender, Pittsburgh Courier, Philadelphia Tribune and New York Amsterdam News printed inspiring stories that sparked a migration explosion that began in 1916. Because of the Great Depression, the movement would cool before thousands more would move North between the 1950s and 1970s. One hundred years later, historians and residents today are marking the milestone with celebrations and seminars to educate a young generation whose parents and grandparents likely migrated from the South.
White newspapers during the Great Migration did not print stories about Blacks or their progress. The newspaper that has been widely credited for sparking the Great Migration is the Chicago Defender, a newspaper that was started with just 25 cents by Robert Sengstacke Abbott in 1905. Because of racism, Abbott, a native of Savannah Georgia, was unable to establish a law practice in Chicago and Gary, Ind. After he founded the paper in the kitchen of his landlord’s apartment, Abbott wrote scathing editorials against racism and ran stories that highlighted the success of Blacks migrants in Chicago. He urged readers to leave the South and posted job listings, train schedules, and photos of the best schools, parks and housing in the city, in comparison to the deplorable conditions in the South.
Because of its coverage, the Defender gained a heavy readership. According to various news reports, the paper was read aloud during church services, in barbershops, homes and on the streets. With stories on Black culture, weddings and lifestyles, the Defender became a must read for Blacks. The paper’s readership went from 10,000 in 1916 to 230,000 in a week. During that time, as many as four readers reportedly shared a copy of the Defender.
Some White newsstands refused to carry the paper. In Mississippi, one county banned the Defender, declaring it “German propaganda.” In Pine Bluff, Arkansas, the city sued to get an injunction to prohibit the circulation of the Defender. Eighteen Black leaders including two ministers were named defendants in the lawsuit. In addition, the FBI began spying on the Defender six months before World War I, according to the Black Press Research Collective, a group of scholars who posted the report in March 2013. The report said the government kept a “vigilant watch” over the Defender and several Black newspapers, which were feared of having ties to the Communist Party.
The Atlanta Independent, a defunct newspaper that ran from 1903 to 1928, was also prohibited from being circulated.
Despite the challenges, the Defender still flourished. A shrewd businessman, Abbott by 1920, employed 563 newsboys to sell his paper on the street. In Southern states, Black Pullman Porters from Chicago smuggled the paper on the trains and dropped them off to a pickup person. Many did so while risking their jobs and lives. They were also carried in churches, barbershops and black businesses. In the early twentieth century, the Defender was the best selling Black newspaper in the country.
Another banned Black newspaper, the Pittsburgh Courier (now the New Pittsburgh Courier), used the Black Pullman Porters to carry out its “Stop and Drop” campaign, where a bundle of papers were dropped before they were sold. The Courier’s readership also skyrocketed. With papers in fourteen major cities, the Courier’s weekly circulation peaked at 500,000, according to news reports.
Today, the Black Press is faced with new challenges and opportunities. With race relations back in the nation’s spotlight, the Black Press is poised to bounce back after years of declining readership. There are also fading job opportunities in the North that are fueling what many are calling a reverse migration. Many Blacks whose parents and grandparents moved to the North are heading back south. According to the U.S. Census, between 2000 and 2010, an estimated 1,336,097 Blacks moved to Southern cities alone, according to the Brookings Institute, which based the study on recent U.S. Census data.In 2011, Atlanta overtook Chicago as the city with the second largest Black population. Chicago is number three while New York maintains the top spot.