February 14, 2011
I floated a Twitter balloon the other week looking for feedback from our followers regarding topics they might like to see us cover here on Brooklynology. Of our 754 devotees (and I use that word loosely) only three responded; but their suggestions were all excellent and deserving of our attention.
Of the three which you can see above I decided to address @brooklynhistory's request for more 20th century posts first -- and not merely because we are kindred cultural institutions (@brooklynhistory is the Twitter account for the Brooklyn Historical Society) but mainly because I could address two topics at once: 20th century life in Brooklyn and -- this being February -- Black History Month.
Since the archive of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle constitutes the bulk of our collection, it's easy to see in going over the blog that most of our posts detailing 20th century life do not cover events beyond 1955, the year the Eagle ceased publication. However, we are by no means bereft of post-1950s materials. So in response to the Brooklyn Historical Society's suggestion, I'd like to highlight the Black News of Bedford Stuyvesant, a newsletter which ran from 1969 to 1984.
Consisting of 123 issues Black News began in October 1969 and ended in March 1984, appearing on a regular monthly basis. Written, illustrated, designed, typed, edited, and distributed by volunteers, Black News reached a circulation of 1,200 issues a month at the nominal price of 10c a copy, which eventually rose to 25c in order to keep pace with production costs.
The aim of Black News was unequivocally spelled out on the front page of the first newsletter (above). And since that type is probably too small to read, here's what they said:
"Black News is a new community publication. It was formed in order to encourage a new awareness and involvement among our people. We hope to attain wide circulation among all segments of the Afro-American community. It's not enough that the young militant reads Black News. Black people can't afford to have an In Crowd, who are the only ones hip on what's happening. If the Young Blood raps about Malcolm, grandma should be able to give her rap on Huey.
We're choosey about ads. If they don't satisfy Black Dignity, they don't satisfy Black News. Therefore we forward all peddlers of bleach creams, goofy dust, and wigs to the Amsterdam.
Our main concern is to agitate, educate, organize. If we don't do these things then we ain't doin nothin!"
With articles on police brutality, racist government policies, corrupt politicians, and the "P.O.W. Forum" -- a series on blacks in prisons -- Black News did indeed live by those three words. On the last page of this first issue the editors issued a call to all students to skip school on October 15, 1969 in order to protest injustices and to attend a teach-in at Prospect Park.
Many articles in Black News also focused on health and well-being, covering such topics as alcoholism, nutrition, illnesses like heart disease and Sickle Cell anemia, and the scourge of the drug trade in the African-American community.
Poetry also appeared in every issue of Black News. Here is a poem entitled "The Beast" by Reginald Monroe.
In addition to the poems and articles -- many of which dealt with the lives of such African-Americans as Malcolm X, Angela Davis, Amiri Baraka, and Louis Farrakhan -- one of the defining characteristics of Black News is its visual design.
Always in black and white, and usually done by artist Jim Dyson, the art in Black News covered a wide array of styles -- photorealistic renderings, photo collage, bold expressive drawings -- and always provided a potent visual analog to the provocative content of the writing.
Aside from the covers, each article was also illustrated, but sometimes, instead of an article about, say, police brutality -- a full-page brutal image was often article enough.
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