This weekend, two trailblazing black newspapers were honored in New Orleans’ French Quarter with a new bronze plaque that heralds their achievements and their contributions to America’s black press and, by extension, black life.
L’Union and la Tribune de la Nouvelle-Orleans (the New Orleans Tribune) circulated among a vast national readership during the Civil War and Reconstruction, the New Orleans Advocate reports.
Founded in 1862 by Dr. Louis Charles Roudanez, L’Union was the South’s first black-owned paper. It published both French and English content, ran three days a week and “claimed a broad following within the Union Army,” the Advocate reports.
This was followed by the Tribune, which two years later became the country’s first black-run daily paper. It was published until 1869.
Both papers were considered radical; historians and activists at the commemoration ceremonies noted that the publications challenged white supremacy, condemning slavery and racial injustice and advocating for the right to vote. The Tribune, though its publishing run was relatively short, was particularly influential, motivating its readership to push for racial equality at the ballot and in the Louisiana state Constitution.
“We plead for equality not as philosophers [who] in their closet write beautiful essays about abstract principles,” one 1869 editorial read. “We are seeking to throw off a tremendous load which has been our inheritance for centuries. With us, it is a reality and no abstraction.”
That commitment is honored on the new plaque, which has been placed at 527 Conti St., the site where the papers were published (according to the Advocate, it’s now a showroom for Bevolo Gas & Electric Lights).
The historic marker comes as momentum is growing to honor Ida B. Wells, a journalist and civil rights icon who shed much-needed light on America’s systemic racial abuse and violence.
A new Washington Post article chronicles the journey of Wells’ great-granddaughter Michelle Duster, who has spent the past decade raising $300,000 to build a monument to her trailblazing forebear in Chicago.
As the Post notes, despite living half her life in Chicago, Wells’ work is “all but unrecognized” in the Windy City.
Wells was relentless in her coverage of lynchings and was a staunch advocate for women’s suffrage, despite the racism of her white suffragette peers.
As Duster, a writer and lecturer, told The Post, “You can’t just gloss over this history.”
From the Post:
Wells’ choices and her example are relevant today, Duster said, when “our stories, our realities are very skewed toward the negative. Living my life as a black woman in this country, the perceptions people have are not based on reality. They’re based on propaganda. ...
“In my own way, I’m trying to add to the positive stories.”
The funding for the Wells memorial is barely halfway to its goal, but a new wave of attention to Wells and her work may make the difference. The memorial committee has already chosen a sculptor for the impressionistic bronze-and-granite monument that will bear Wells’ likeness. They also have a location in mind—Bronzeville, considered the “heart of Chicago’s black community during the Great Migration,” according to the Post. The proposed site will sit just a half-mile from Wells’ home.
Duster told the Post that Wells’ achievements must be remembered because she “not only believed in certain principles and values, but she sacrificed herself over and over and over again.
“She was called fearless,” Duster said. “I don’t believe that she had no fear. I believe she had fear and she decided to keep going forward.”