This blog post features the Serial & Government Publications Division Junior Fellow from the Library’s 2023 Junior Fellows Program. This summer, Junior Fellow Courtney Murray researched and wrote essays about African American newspaper titles available in the Chronicling America* Historic American Newspapers database. In 2021, the Library began to digitize a collection of miscellaneous 19th and early 20th century newspapers from the Black American press. Murray wrote ten well-researched newspaper history essays that represented significant titles from this collection.
In this interview with Robin Pike, Head, Digital Collections Services Section, Murray shares her research interests and background, her internship experience, and more about the project, “Researching the 19th and Early 20th Century Black Press in Chronicling America.”
Tell us a little about your background. What led you to apply for a Library of Congress Junior Fellows internship?
I am a fifth-year Doctoral candidate in English and African American Studies at The Pennsylvania State University. I do research on Black feminist politics of space and place in 19th century African American literature, specifically in slave narratives and novels of the period. I am also a #DigBlk Scholar at Penn State’s Center for Black Digital Research where I have had experience using Black Digital Humanities methods to explore 19th century Colored Conventions and Black Print Culture.
As a graduate student and researcher, I have had opportunities to work with the Library of Congress to host events like Douglass Day and use their Chronicling America database to research materials like petitions coming from Colored Conventions. Being a part of community-oriented digital projects and centers has made me dedicated to researching the lives of African Americans, and connecting those lives to the communities they impacted. This internship was a perfect way to stay dedicated to this commitment but also have the opportunity to challenge myself in a new environment.
What project did you work on this summer?
This summer, I worked with the Serial and Government Publications Division on their “Researching the 19th and Early 20th Century Black Press in Chronicling America” project. The primary goal for my project was to add context to these newspapers to make them even more accessible to researchers, teachers, and students interested in their content. I used the Chronicling America database, other newspaper databases, newspaper indexes, and other reference materials to research and write ten title essays about significant newspapers critical for understanding the Black Press and African American history.
I wrote essays on these newspapers:
- Afro-American Advance (Minnesota)
- Aliened American (Ohio)
- American Citizen (Kansas)
- Colored American (Georgia)
- Gazette (Ohio)
- Loyal Georgian (Georgia)
- L’Union (Louisiana)
- Mirror of the Times (California)
- Nicodemus Cyclone (Kansas)
- Rights of All (New York)
Why did you choose to research these newspaper titles?
For the internship, I chose newspapers based on their significance to African American history, their duration, and number of available digitized issues. I also took geographical, political, and temporal factors into consideration. East, West, North, South, and sub-regions; Democratic, Republican, and Independent journals; and, antebellum, postbellum, and turn-of-the-century newspapers are all represented in the chosen papers. Choosing such a wide array of newspapers resulted in some great research moments because, for example, I could trace how and why the “Exoduster” movement began in the 1870s in the Midwest by what was occurring in states like Georgia during and after Reconstruction, or well-known editors and publishers would appear years earlier or later in other papers in different regions.
What have you learned about these newspapers during the process of writing the essays?
I learned a lot about the struggles of sustaining a Black press and how crucial church and other social activities were in these communities. While not major news to us now, the daily and local happenings of people in their communities was just as important as state and national news. It is how they represented themselves and connected to each other as a community. However, none of these topics were monolithic for these African Americans. Black communities and their newspapers were diverse in their purposes and what they thought racial uplift should look like, which often led to debates, rivalries, successes, and failures between communities and papers. These differences were even seen in how editors and publishers structured the content in their newspapers, the languages they published in, and who they thought should lead these papers. Everything was intentional in combatting the misrepresentation of and racial violence against African Americans during this time.
I was particularly amazed at how African American women played a larger role in the Black press than I already knew. Before this project, I knew about women like France E. W. Harper, Mary Ann Shadd Cary, and Ida B. Wells-Barnett and their contributions to the Black press, but I was amazed to see so many other named and unnamed women taking part of the press at all levels, especially in the Midwest and West. Wives like Lucie Stanton Day Sessions and Sarah E. Shuften wrote poetry and short stories and edited their husband’s newspapers. Women like Florence Duckett were some of the few women editing, publishing, and owning newspapers at the time. Other women were news reporters and newspaper agents, gathering news from other towns and writing women’s columns and editorials. Countless other named and unnamed women set lead type, printed the papers, created organizations to fundraise for the papers, collected subscriptions, and so much more.
Is there anything else you would like to share about these newspapers or your research?
I am excited that, once added to Chronicling America, my essays will highlight the importance and range of the Black Press during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. While there is a lot of research about the Black Press, there is still so much to learn and discover about the issues, groups, and lives involved in these newspapers such as women’s visible and invisible labor, the Colored Conventions and their roles in the Black Press, African American volunteer regiments and troops, Black newspapers in French and other languages, emigration and immigration, papers connected to Black towns, advertisements, political cartoons, and so much more.
* The Chronicling America historic newspapers online collection is a product of the National Digital Newspaper Program and jointly sponsored by the Library and the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Follow Chronicling America on Twitter @ChronAmLOC
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