Many know of newspapers such as the New York Amsterdam News, the Afro-American Newspapers, and the Chicago Defender, and magazines such as Ebony, Jet, and Our World that were–and, in some cases, still are–published for African American readers. Fewer know about another way that African Americans could access the news of the day in the 1940s and 1950s; the All-American News, newsreels similar to the Movietone newsreels that were shown before feature films, were produced for African American audiences. Each newsreel in the series started with the following statement, “Brings you our people’s contributions to America and Freedom.” The All-American News allowed African Americans to see themselves as newsmakers and as successful members of the community, and showed the contributions of African American soldiers on the war front to friends and families at home.
Made in the 1940s and 1950s, these films were originally intended to encourage black Americans to participate in and support the war effort, and to reflect an African American perspective on world and national events. According to The American Newsreel: A Complete History, 1911-1967 by Raymond Fielding, a survey from the Office of War Information indicated that “85 percent of the Negroes in five large cities got most of their news on Negro affairs from All-American News.”
The Library of Congress National Screening Room has 33 issues of the All-American News available for viewing. Encourage students to watch a few episodes and consider why particular stories were selected for the newsreels. Ask them which of the stories that were selected might make it onto evening news shows today. Allow time for students to explain their choices and their reasoning.
A number of other newsreels were popular at the time. Some explicitly targeted specific audiences, while others claimed to address a general audience. Compare selections from the All-American News to selections from Women in the News. Compare these to other newsreels including the film documenting the 15th anniversary of the Pathé News.
The National Screening Room has other newsreels and reports produced for African American audiences. Students can view the film “A Time For Freedom” that documented the 1957 Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom and consider how the All-American News may have influenced the film made for this event. Students can also explore why it was important to document this march within the African American community.
To expand students’ understanding of various ways news is reported, encourage them to search in Chronicling America to locate news reports on the 1957 march and the March on Washington in 1963. Why do they think that the print news reporting was different given that the venue and many of the speakers were the same?