Originally published in the Summer 2019 edition of the Virginia Defender, issue 59, printed August 23. Reproduced here for accessibility and archival purposes. To find other stories in the Summer 2019 issue or to download the full PDF, see this post. For the full web catalog, see our Full Issues page.
Marking the end of an era, the 114-yearold Chicago Defender released its final print edition on July 10. Succumbing to trends that have fundamentally transformed the newspaper industry, the iconic Black newspaper has switched to an all-online model.
In its heyday, the Defender was one of the most influential newspapers serving the Black community, reporting news from the mundane to the historic that often was ignored by the white-owned press. Among its many notable writers were Langston Hughes and Gwendolyn Brooks.
Along with its courageous exposes of racial atrocities, the Defender also portrayed a view of Black economic progress in the North, which played a major role in encouraging the Great Migration that in the 20th century saw some 6 million African-Americans move from the rural South to the urban North. Based in the industrial center of Chicago, the newspaper was carried to Southern communities by Pullman railway porters.
The country’s first Black newspaper, Freedom’s Journal, was founded in 1827. In the three decades after the end of the Civil War, more than 500 Black-owned newspapers had been published, according to a report by the Democracy Fund.
Today there are 208 Black-owned newspapers attracting 22.2 million print and online readers each week, according to the National Newspaper Publishers Association, a trade organization for African-American-owned newspapers.
Note: We are often asked if The Virginia Defender was named after the Chicago Defender. Founded as The Richmond Defender, our name was an extension of our organization, the Defenders for Freedom, Justice & Equality. However, we were well aware of the Chicago icon and try to follow in its heroic tradition of speaking Truth to Power.
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