NPT’s ‘Early Black Press’ Documentary Premieres April 20, 2017

The Early Black Press: Tennessee Voices Lifted, an NPT original production, premieres Thursday, April 20, at 8 p.m. This latest documentary in our Citizenship series was produced by LaTonya Turner and Ed Jones and examines the rise of black-owned newspapers in the decades following the Civil War. We will host a simultaneous Facebook Live screening event allowing viewers to carry on a real-time conversation with Turner, Jones and media expert Karen B. Dunlap, Ph.D., president emeritus of The Poynter Institute, during the premiere.

Dr. Dunlap is one of several scholars, historians and other experts discussing the development and significance of these publications in The Early Black Press. Other guests are Beverly G. Bond, Ph.D.; Carroll Van West, Ph.D.; Robert J. Booker; Bobby L. Lovett, Ph.D.; Lewis Laska, Ph.D.; and John Edwards III. (Nashville historian David Ewing appears in a bonus video available on the documentary’s website.)

Not surprisingly, black newspapers were launched in Tennessee’s most populous cities where large populations of blacks were eager to capitalize on their freedom – and later to counteract the setbacks of the Reconstruction era. Among these publications were The Colored Tennessean (Nashville), the Knoxville Examiner, The Chattanooga Blade, and the Memphis Free Speech and Headlight, the latter boasting journalism pioneer Ida B. Wells as an owner/publisher.

Wells, who had studied for a time at Fisk University, launched her newspaper career writing scathing editorials about Memphis’ racial policies. In addition to advocating for civil rights and women’s rights, she was also an anti-lynching campaigner and one of only two women who signed “the call” for the founding of the NAACP.

Ironically, black newspapers began to decline in the 1960s as opportunities for African Americans began to increase in mainstream newspapers during the Civil Rights era.

Additional broadcast times for The Early Black Press: Tennessee Voices Lifted:

  • Saturday, April 22, 5 p.m. on NPT2
  • Sunday, April 23, 1 p.m. on NPT2

The documentary will also be available for online viewing at


About the Citizenship Project
The Citizenship Project is a new series of NPT original documentaries that will look at how different groups have fought for, obtained and maintained the rights and access we commonly associate with American citizenship.

These include the right to vote, the right to receive a public education, the right to be considered equal before the law, and the right to worship the religion of one’s choice. Over the course of the project, the programs will cover Tennessee history from the end of the Civil War through the 1960s, exploring civil rights and women’s suffrage among other topics.


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