In an unfortunate way, what is old often becomes new again when considering the history of the world. With recent news of Ukraine’s bombing at the hands of Russian leaders depicting scenes reminiscent of World War II, a deadly ongoing pandemic, and acts of everyday, overt racism taking over our newsfeeds, its easy to question what era we’re living in. In an effort to fight old battles however, some are uncovering old tools of defense.
Meet Deborah Douglas and Amber Payne, co editors of a revived version of The Emancipator, America’s first abolitionist newspaper set to be launched later this year. With the collaborative assistance of Boston University’s Center for Antiracist Research and The Boston Globe’s Opinion team, Douglas and Payne are using academic research and journalism as weapons against the legacy of racism, much as journalism was once used to abolish slavery, lynching, and other criminal and discriminatory practices.
“I like to say it’s anti-racism, every day, on purpose,” Douglas stated to HuffPost reporters. “We are targeting anyone who wants to be a part of the solution to creating an anti-racist society because we think that leads us to our true north, which is democracy.”
The Emancipator was first published in 1820, and founded by iron worker Elihu Embree of Jonesborough, Tennessee. According to the University of Tennessee Knoxville libraries, it was the first ever publication “to advocate the abolition of slavery, and to be a repository of tracts on that interesting and important subject.” The newspaper reached a circulation of over 2,000 in cities such as Boston and Philadelphia, which were considered centers of the abolitionist movement. While the legacy of the publication stretches over two centuries, its actual time in print was short lived. Not even a full year after its first issue, production was halted after the untimely death of its founder, Embree. Now, Douglas and Payne’s team of researchers and reporters are reviving it on a digital platform to make it accessible to the masses.
“This is really deep reporting, deep research and deep analysis that’s scholarly driven but written at a level that everyone can understand,” Douglas said. “Everybody is invited to this conversation. We want it to be accessible, digestible and, hopefully, actionable.”
After serving as the managing editor at BET.com and as an executive producer at Teen Vogue, Amber Payne’s contribution to the new Emancipator includes a focus on highlighting solutions to the nation’s race problems, and utilizing a myriad of methods to do so.
“There are community groups, advocates and legislators who are really taking matters into their own hands so how do we amplify those solutions and get those stories told?” she said. “At the academic level, there’s so much scholarly research that just doesn’t fit into a neat, 800-word Washington Post op-ed. It requires more excavation. It requires maybe a multimedia series. Maybe it needs a video. So we think that we are really uniquely positioned.”
The publication also serves a great purpose when it comes to putting a stop to the spread of misinformation. At a time when there are debates around how to teach the history of Black Americans, and banning books that address racism and abolitionist ideologies, the revival of The Emancipator is perfectly timed.
“Our country is so polarized that partisanship is trumping science and trumping historical records,” Payne said. “These ongoing crusades against affirmative action, against critical race theory are not going away. That drumbeat is continuing and so therefore our drumbeat needs to continue.”