In the decades leading up to the Civil War, antebellum African Americans elites turned to the newspaper as a means of translating their belief in black "chosenness" into programs for black liberation. Benjamin Fagan's The Black Newspaper and the Chosen Nation
(University of Georgia Press, 2016) demonstrates how the belief that God had marked black Americans as his chosen people on earth became a central article of faith in many northern African American communities throughout the nineteenth century. Directed by varying understandings of black "chosenness," black periodicals helped to frame public debate, shape the black public sphere and to define forms of respectability and strategies for racial uplift.
Fagan joins podcast host James West to discuss many of the key protagonists and periodicals of his work in more detail, shedding new light on prominent editors such as Frederick Douglass, Samuel Cornish and Mary Ann Shadd, and important early black periodicals such as Freedoms Journal
, the North Star
and the Provincial Freeman
. As Fagan ably demonstrates, the idea of black "chosenness" played a major role in the early development of the black press, and helped to shape broader understandings of freedom, equality and nationhood on both a translocal and transnational scale.
James West is a historian of the twentieth century United States. His research focuses on African American business enterprise and print culture, with a particular interest in Chicago. His current book project examines the role of EBONY magazine as an outlet for popular black history. He tweets @chitownanddown.