Abolition newspaper Emancipator revived for a nation struggling with racism


BOSTON — America’s first newspaper dedicated to ending slavery is being resurrected and reinvented more than two centuries later as the nation continues to grapple with its legacy of racism.

The relaunched version of The Emancipator is a joint effort of Boston University’s Center for Antiracist Research and the Boston Globe’s Opinion team that is expected to launch in the coming months.

Deborah Douglas and Amber Payne, co-editors of the new online publication, say it will feature written and video opinion pieces, multimedia series, virtual lectures and other content by respected scholars and seasoned journalists. The goal, they say, is to “reframe” the national conversation around racial injustice.

“I like to say it’s anti-racism, everyday, by design,” said Douglas, who joined the project after working as a journalism professor at DePauw University in Indiana. “We are targeting anyone who wants to be part of the solution to creating an anti-racist society because we believe it takes us to our true north, which is democracy.”

The Original Emancipator was founded in 1820 in Jonesborough, Tennessee, by ironmaker Elihu Embree, for the stated purpose of “advocating the abolition of slavery and being a repository of tracts on this interesting and important subject “, according to a digital collection from the University of Tennessee Library’s monthly newsletter.

Before Embree’s untimely death from a fever ended its brief run later that year, The Emancipator reached a circulation of over 2,000 copies, with copies distributed throughout the South and into northern cities like Boston and Philadelphia that were centers of the abolitionist movement.

The new incarnation of The Emancipator will explore ways to reframe the national conversation around racial injustice.
AP Photo/Charles Krupa

Douglas and Payne say drawing on the newspaper’s legacy is appropriate now because it was probably hard for Americans to imagine a country without slavery back then, just as many people today probably can’t imagine. a nation without racism. The new Emancipator was announced last March, nearly a year after the May 2020 killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police sparked social justice movements around the world.

“These abolitionists were seen as radical and extreme,” Douglas said. “But that’s part of our job as journalists – to provide those tools, those perspectives that can help them imagine a different world.”

Other projects have also recently gone online taking over abolitionist newspapers, including The North Star, a media site launched in 2019 by civil rights activist Shaun King and journalist Benjamin Dixon that is billed as a revival of the influential anti-slavery journal of Frederick Douglass.

Douglas said The Emancipator, which is free to the public and primarily funded by philanthropic donations, will stand out because of its emphasis on incisive commentary and rigorous academic work. The publication’s staff, once in place, will largely avoid the typical quick turnaround, breaking media coverage, she said.

Amber Payne, left, and Deborah Douglas co-editors of the new online publication of "The emancipator"
Douglas and Payne say drawing on the newspaper’s legacy is appropriate now because it was probably hard for Americans to imagine a country without slavery back then, just as many people today probably can’t imagine. a nation without racism.
AP Photo/Charles Krupa

“It’s really in-depth reporting, in-depth research and in-depth research-driven analysis, but written at a level that anyone can understand,” Douglas said. “Everyone is invited to this conversation. We want it to be accessible, digestible and hopefully actionable.

The publication also hopes to serve as a bulwark against racist misinformation, with videos and explainer articles revealing the truth, she added. He will take a critical look at popular culture, film, music and television and, as the pandemic subsides, will seek to host live events around Boston.

“Whenever someone twists words, issues, situations or experiences, we want to be there like a mole, knocking them down with facts and context,” Douglas said.

Another critical goal of the publication will be to shine a light on solutions to some of the country’s most intractable racial issues, added Payne, who joined the project after working as editor at BET.com and executive producer at Teen. vogue.

“There are community groups, advocates and lawmakers who are really taking matters into their own hands, so how can we amplify these solutions and get these stories told?” she says. “At the academic level, there’s so much academic research that just doesn’t fit into an 800-word Washington Post editorial. This requires more digging. Perhaps it requires a multimedia series. Maybe he needs a video. So we think we’re really in a unique position.

The project has already released a few representative pieces. To mark the one-year anniversary of the January 6 uprising at the United States Capitol, The Emancipator has published an interview with a Harvard social justice professor and a commentary by a Boston College poetry professor.

He also posted a video on social media featuring Ibram X. Kendi, founding director of BU’s Anti-Racism Center and author of “How to Be an Anti-Racist”, reflecting on white supremacy. Kendi co-founded the project with Boston Globe editor Bina Venkataraman.

And while the new Emancipator focuses primarily on the black community, Douglas and Payne point out that it will also tackle issues facing other communities of color, such as the rise in anti-Asian hatred during the global pandemic. of coronavirus.

They argue that The Emancipator’s mission is all the more critical now that the debate over how racism is taught has made schools the latest political battleground.

“Our country is so polarized that partisanship trumps science and historical records,” Payne said. “These ongoing crusades against affirmative action, against critical race theory are not going away. This drumbeat continues and so our drumbeat must continue.

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