Synopsis by Mark Deming
The Black Press: Soldiers Without Swords is a documentary about the largely-forgotten history of African-American newspapers. In 1827, a group of black writers and journalists in New York who were tired of the way racial issues were depicted in the press created America's first black-owned and operated newspaper, "Freedom's Journal." Over the next 150 years, dozens of similar newspapers appeared across America, giving African-Americans a voice they never had in the mainstream news media. On of the largest black newspapers, "The Chicago Defender," helped promote the "Great Migration" by advising Southern blacks to move North, where they would be treated with greater tolerance. As a result, the paper was banned in many Southern states, but it still trickled into the South thanks to black train porters, who brought copies with them on journeys from the North. Another black paper, "The Pittsburgh Courier," attracted the attention of the FBI when during World War II they launched what they called the "Double V Campaign," which argued the battle against fascism in Europe should be extended to fighting segregation in the United States, in the process incurring the wrath of J. Edgar Hoover. However, when the Civil Rights movement the black press helped to organize took hold, the mainstream press began presenting more and better coverage of issues in the black community, which led to a declining interest in the African-American papers. Featuring interviews with members of the black press and newsreel footage, The Black Press is narrated by actor Joe Morton and was shown both on PBS and at the 1999 Sundance Film Festival.