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Monday March 20th

'A vehicle and a voice': NC Black newspapers preserve history, increase representation

The Triangle Tribune, a black newspaper based out of Durham, N.C., is pictured on Monday, Feb. 6, 2023, in the Wilson Library Archives.
Buy Photos The Triangle Tribune, a black newspaper based out of Durham, N.C., is pictured on Monday, Feb. 6, 2023, in the Wilson Library Archives.

The Black press has been an integral part of advocacy and representation of the Black community in North Carolina for over a century.  

The state's longest-running Black newspaper, The Star of Zion in Charlotte, began in 1876 and is still being published today. Other notable long-running papers include The Carolinian in Raleigh, The Carolina Peacemaker in Greensboro and The Triangle Tribune in Durham.   

Since Reconstruction, more than 60 Black newspapers have emerged in the state, according to Trevy A. McDonald, an associate professor at UNC's Hussman School of Journalism and Media. However, many of them were short-lived because they had financial support difficulties.  

Early Black-run newspapers published stories about the local Black community’s hopes, dreams and aspirations, McDonald said.  

“Definitely, they were politically active, and they really encouraged the uplifting and the advancement of the Black community,” McDonald said.        

This was uncommon in mainstream news due to a lack of positive representation of Black citizens in the media. She said news organizations geared toward white audiences rarely published stories about the Black community unless in connection to topics like crime.  

Today, many Black publishers have shifted their content to digital platforms to make it more accessible to readers, she added. 

Cary Wheelous, the CEO and founder of the app Hayti, noted that local Black news organizations struggled to maintain digital traffic to their platforms thanks in part to the way apps like Apple News and Google News display articles.

Hayti, named after the neighborhood in Durham that is home to what was referred to as North Carolina’s "Black Wall Street," aggregates the content of over 200 Black publishers worldwide for users of the app to read. Wheelous said he hopes the app will drive traffic to the websites of these Black publishers to help them generate revenue.

“I’m trying to create awareness with the platform of these amazing journalists that are creating some amazing articles by using the platform,” he said.

He said Hayti is launching a new section called Hayti Podcasts in February, which will collect the shows of 1,000 Black podcasters and looks to become the largest Black-owned podcast app in America.

Wheelous said he hopes Hayti will not only support current Black news organizations but that it will also raise awareness about potential employers in local news for Black student journalists.

There are more opportunities for students from all backgrounds today, particularly because local Black newspapers create more opportunities for young Black journalists, McDonald said. 

Wheelous was inspired to begin Hayti when he heard about the death of Kenneth Edmonds, the publisher of The Carolina Times, which was one of the most prominent Black newspapers in the state. 

The Carolina Times ceased publication in 2020 after Edmonds’ death. Edmonds had taken over as publisher after his grandfather, Louis E. Austin, died in 1971.

According to DigitalNC, which houses a digital archive of The Carolina Times and other Black newspapers, the paper fought for racial equality, as well as documented and publicized racial inequities in the state and nation as a whole.

Many Black newspapers were distributed nationwide at the turn of the 20th century, which McDonald said encouraged political action and influenced the Great Migration by painting pictures of Black success in the North and West.

“I feel that the Black community is where it is today because of having a vehicle and a voice through the Black press, which in many instances called them to action,” McDonald said.

Carl Kenney, an adjunct instructor at the Hussman School of Journalism and Media, said the Black press has always been a vehicle to counter negative imagery of Black people and counter white assumptions about freedom and truth.

“It is absolutely necessary that the stories regarding Black people are told from the perspective of Black people,” he said. 

McDonald noted that bringing journalists and communicators who practice through a lens of cultural competency into newsrooms is important for representing not just race, but also ability, gender and generational differences more authentically.

By uplifting Black writers, Black editors, Black women and Black queer people in the newsroom, Kenney said the Black experience will be more protected and amplified in the research, analysis and reporting of news.

Kenney said he is focused on impacting and bettering the lives of Black people through his work as a journalist. 

“Everything we do has got to be from that very sacred place of Black life," Kenney said. "If you lose that, then we’re not doing nothing other than melting into the melting pot of white life in America — without our experiences being a part of that conversation.”


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