February 7, 2011

Motives higher than money-making or notoriety

Walter H. Stowers was born on February 7, 1859 in Canada, where his parents had fled to escape slavery. Three years later to the day, Benjamin B. Pelham was born in Detroit, Michigan. Pelham later founded an amateur newspaper, The Venture, to which Stowers contributed. With the help of other African Americans, together they founded the Detroit Plaindealer in 1883.

Their newspaper was aimed specifically at African American audiences (though they preferred the term "Afro-American" and were leaders in suppressing the use of the term "Negro"). The Plaindealer earned respect for its efforts - one newspaper warned that the publication "does not mince matters, but it calls a spade a spade every time." Its editors explained their motivation:

...Afro-American newspapers have for their raison d'etre other motives higher than money-making or notoriety, seeking which make their success or failure of more moment and of much more interest to those who appreciate their necessity. The failure of an Afro-American journal, i. e., a good one, means not simply that the people are supporting some other in its place, but that they are not inclined to support any. It does not mean simply a transfer of patronage, but a lack of it. It does not mean that the desire is elsewhere gratified, but that there is no desire. It is an index of the tendencies of a people and, to a certain extent, a measure of their progress. 

Their mission, they said, was "to overcome distrust" and "to set an example that there is no field of labor which cannot be successfully explored and cultivated by the Afro-American who is energetic and painstaking." Further, they aimed "for the creation of a distinctive and favorable Afro-American sentiment, for the dislodgment of prejudice and for the encouragement of patriotism." It continued until 1894.

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