The very first African American newspaper of record in Oklahoma history was the Oklahoma Guide, a monthly, sporadically published in 1889. Thus, the black press in Oklahoma paralleled the opening of the territory in 1889. The Guide was followed in 1891 by the Langston Herald, the first weekly. Both were part of two well-established traditions. The first was the "Boomer Press" that was organized to agitate for the formal opening of the Oklahoma Territory and its settlement. However, the second tradition devolved from the Kansas experience of men like Edward P. McCabe, former state auditor, and William L. Eagleson, former editor of Kansas's first black newspaper. They used African American newspapers to promote the settlement of the All-Black towns in Oklahoma. Despite its promotional journal label, the Langston Herald was the most successful of all the earlier black publications, but it never compromised its other objectives. The Herald set the precedent for the black press because it never accepted political subsidy, continued to support black migration and homesteading, kept its commitment to fight for the political independence of the black citizen, and survived financially from its subscriber base rather than from its advertisers. On the other hand, the All-Black towns were still being touted as safe haven for political and economic opportunities. Unfortunately, from 1889 to 1919 most of the eighteen black-town newspapers were as short lived as the towns they promoted.
Many critics labeled these All-Black towns "escaped societies," but many African Americans considered cities to be a safe haven that offered a degree of anonymity. The black urban press in Oklahoma began publishing only a year and twenty-four days after its rural or All-Black town counterparts. Guthrie, the territorial capital, had a dual reputation; it was often called a graveyard for newspapers, yet between 1892 and 1922 the city also supported nearly a dozen black publications. The Oklahoma Guide (1892-1922) and the Oklahoma Safeguard (1894-1915) were two of seven newspapers being published in the capital. Such papers set the trend for being "fierce defenders of black rights." In Indian Territory the same pattern emerged. Muskogee was its publishing center. Prior to statehood, from 1893 to 1906 the Muskogee Cimeter was the largest of some nine news journals in business. Accordingly, the two largest cities in Oklahoma were the bases of operation for the Oklahoma City's Western World (1903) and the Tulsa Guide(1906).
The predecessors of the black daily were the semiweekly publications. The first of these ventures was the Langston City Western Age (1904-1907). It was soon followed by the Guthrie Twice-A-Week Sun (1911-1914) and the Tulsa Oklahoma Eagle, which was still publishing as a twice-a-week journal in 1978. However, the true test of a publishing venture and its maturity is whether it can meet the grueling challenge of daily publication.
Only in a city with a large black population providing a large subscription base, broad advertising opportunities, and job printing contracts could such journals survive. Most of these black enterprises were hard pressed to meet this criteria and operated very briefly. For example, in the city of Muskogee, two dailies, the Daily Searchlight (1905-1906) and the Daily Republican (1909-1910) had a limited life span. The last of the dailies, the Muskogee Star (1912), later became the Tulsa Star, which published off and on as a weekly. However, from 1918 to1921 it was issued as the Tulsa Daily Star. Unfortunately, its fifteen-thousand-dollar news plant was destroyed by fire on June 1,1921, in the notorious Tulsa Race Riot. Fire could destroy buildings, but the words of the black editors would be eternal.
The editorial was the sword, and it is still effective in holding the black community accountable, but it would not let the general public avoid its responsibility. For example, Roscoe Dunjee, the long time editor of the Oklahoma Black Dispatch, in addressing a serious issue to the black reading public, suggested "that [the] time has come for us blacks to stop talking about [political parties] affiliations and make our vote count for our own benefits." At the end of the twentieth century the Tulsa Oklahoma Eagle carried the banner for the traditional Oklahoma black press and was joined by two Oklahoma City black weeklies, the Black Chronicle and the Ebony Tribune.
SEE ALSO: AFRICAN AMERICANS, ALL-BLACK TOWNS, CIVIL RIGHTS, ROSCOE DUNJEE, DRUSILLA DUNJEE HOUSTON, EDWARD P. McCABE, GEORGE NAPIER PERKINS, PRINTING AND PUBLISHING INDUSTRY, SEGREGATION, ANDREW J. SMITHERMAN, WILLIAM H. TWINE
BIBLIOGRAPHY: Norman Crockett, The Black Towns (Lawrence: Regents Press of Kansas, 1979). Scott Ellsworth, Death in a Promised Land: The Tulsa Race Riot of 1921 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1982). Jimmie Lewis Franklin, Journey Toward Hope: A History of Blacks in Oklahoma (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1982). Kaye M. Teall, Black History In Oklahoma: A Resource Book (Oklahoma City, Okla.: Oklahoma City Public Schools, 1971). Arthur L. Tolson, The Black Oklahomans: A History, 1541-1972 (New Orleans, La.: Edwards Printing Company, 1972). Nudie E. Williams, "The Black Press in Oklahoma: The Formative Years, 1889-1907," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 61 (Fall 1983). Nudie E. Williams, "They Fought for Votes: The White Politician and the Black Editor," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 64 (Spring 1986).
Nudie E. Williams
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