Letters to the Editor in the Chicago Defender, 1929–1930: The Voice of a Voiceless People

  • Stephynie C. Perkins
  • Brian ThorntonEmail author
  • Tulika Varma


A good researcher can walk into nearly any decent university research library across the country and easily find copies of major metropolitan newspapers such as the New York Times, Los Angeles Times and Washington Post, dating back at least 100 years. And, as a result, studying the historical record of letters to the editor in those publications is relatively easy. This exciting work is being undertaken by more and more journalism historians and it is a project that should be strongly supported. But what about if one is trying to find letters to the editor in the Chicago Defender, one of the largest and most influential black newspapers in the United States? Or what about some other major black newspapers, such as the Baltimore Afro-American, The Indianapolis Recorder or Los Angeles California Eagle? The sad answer is that the voice of the black press is largely missing from the historical record and from most libraries.

What is missing and is necessary is a systematic study of the history and content of published letters to the editor in African-American newspapers. This chapter attempts to undertake two tasks—to explore some of the major themes in the letters in a dozen African-American newspapers over three different time periods, 1929, 1968 and 1972, and, secondly, to call for more such research into the letters to the editor in the black press.

Robert S. McElvaine has written that the history of a people in a given historical period must begin with the testimony of the people themselves. He argues historians need to let the people speak for themselves. He wrote: “If you want Negro history you will have to get it from somebody who wore the shoe, and by and by, from one to the other, you will get a book.”

What is unique about this research and this chapter is an attempt to collect, analyze and categorize the voice of at least some African Americans, that is, some of the people who wore the shoe––in the form of published letters to the editor and editorials in prominent African-American newspapers during a time of crisis. To paraphrase McElvaine, the voice of these people has been forgotten for so long, not because they were silent, but because their stories were not valued.


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Stephynie C. Perkins
    • 1
  • Brian Thornton
    • 1
    Email author
  • Tulika Varma
    • 1
  1. 1.University of North FloridaJacksonvilleUSA

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