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A soldier without a sword: 25 years with The American

Published March 14, 2018 in celebration of The St. Louis American’s 90th Anniversary
By Jamala Rogers

“The Black Press was never intended to be objective because it didn’t see the white press being objective. It often took a position. It had an attitude. This was a press of advocacy. There was news, but the news had an admitted and a deliberate slant.”

The above words came from Phyllis Garland when she was interviewed almost 30 years ago for a PBS documentary entitled “The Black Press: Soldiers Without Swords.” While she may have been summing up the Black Press, it also accurately describes my perspective as a writer for The St. Louis American.

Unlike Phyllis Garland, I never considered myself a journalist. Garland was the first African American and first female to be tenured at the Columbia University School of Journalism. She began her professional career at the Pittsburgh Courier, a nationally distributed and respected black newspaper founded in 1910. Garland learned the techniques and literary styles of journalism and perfected them over the years. I came to The St. Louis American with only a love for writing and a passion for racial justice organizing.

Those readers who bought a copy of my book “The Best of the ‘Way I See It’” read in its introduction how I first came to write for The American. My question to Publisher Donald M. Suggs as to the whereabouts of women’s voices in the newspaper led to an offer to write a weekly feature column. Next year will be my 25th year with the award-winning publication.

The Black Press is just as important in 2018 as it was in 1827 when visionaries created Freedom’s Journal, the first publication designed exclusively for and about black folks – “to plead our own cause” because for “too long others have spoken for us.”

The role of the Black Press is to inform, challenge, expose, defend, advocate, document, analyze and inspire. Its awesome responsibility is to unapologetically lift up our struggles and triumphs. If the racist mainstream media didn’t vilify, criminalize or dehumanize us, people of African descent in this country would be virtually invisible.

In the tradition of the Black Press, The St. Louis American has chronicled our history, celebrated our communities and critiqued our progress. Whether it was a campaign to “Buy Where You Can Work” in 1930 or the intensive coverage of the Ferguson Uprising, The American has been steadfast in covering the life and times of the black community. From the Political EYE to Delores Shante’s Partyline, there is a different appeal for everyone who picks up the paper, drawn to the website or follows it in social media.

The St. Louis American continues to create the environment for healthy debate, even it means disagreeing with a reader or standing corrected by an opposing viewpoint. The newspaper has been a consistent and faithful storyteller on behalf of our community. The American has pled our cause for the last 90 years – a soldier without a sword – defending the dignity and accomplishments of a people. That’s a fact that we should never take for granted.

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