The Black Press: Soldiers Without Swords examines the rich history of African-American newspapers in the United States.
The Black Press: Soldiers Without Swords is an engaging historical account that tells the story of the pioneering men and women of the Black press who gave voice to Black America. The film had its television broadcast premiere on February 8, l999, on PBS as part of its celebration of Black history month. In addition to the television broadcast, Soldiers Without Swords was accepted into the prestigious 1999 Sundance Film Festival in the documentary category. Soldiers Without Swords is the first documentary to provide an in-depth examination of the history and contributions of African American newspapers.
Since the early 1800’s Black newspapers have existed in almost every major city in the U.S. Collectively, these papers contain the most detailed record of African American life in existence. "I was looking through black newspapers while researching two other historical documentaries," says multi-award winning filmmaker, Stanley Nelson. "I was both excited and overwhelmed by the volume of research materials that laid before me. I realized then that Black newspapers were fascinating in themselves and told their own story." Collectively, these papers contain the most detailed record of African American life in existence. Nelson, who also produced two other award-winning films, "Two Dollars and a Dream: The Story of Madame C. J. Walker," about the first self-made African American businesswoman to become a millionaire, and "Freedom Bags," about the northern migration by African American domestic workers.
Several of the key reporters, publishers and photo journalists are interviewed in the film, shortly before their deaths. Nelson conducted one of the last on camera interviews with John Sengstacke, publisher of the only daily Black newspaper still in production, the Chicago Defender; and with the late Charles "Teenie" Harris, retired staff photographer with the Pittsburgh Courier. Other prominent Black journalists interviewed are Vernon Jarrett, former reporter with Chicago Defender, Chicago Tribune, and the Chicago Sun Times and Edward "Abie" Robinson, former reporter with the California Eagle. From facilitating the migration of Southern Blacks to northern cities; to recording the social and political events affecting the lives of African Americans; to providing a showcase honoring Black soldiers in World War II, the Black press documented life for millions of people that were otherwise ignored. Soldiers Without Swords gives life to this fascinating, little known history by weaving music by Grammy award-winning jazz artist Ron Carter with archival footage, photographs and interviews with editors, photographers and journalists of the Black press. The film is narrated by stage, screen and television actor Joe Morton.
The Black Press: Soldiers Without Swords chronicles the growth, accomplishments and illustrious history of what once was this nation’s strongest voice for the African American community. The 90-minute film is divided into five parts: No Longer Shall Others Speak For Us provides an overview of the growth and influence of the Black press, from the founding of Freedom’s Journal in 1827 to the turn of the century. Standing Up for the Race examines the role of Black journalists like Chicago Defender publisher Robert Abbott in advancing the "Great Migration" of blacks from the South. The film shows how attempts to ban the sale of the Defender from many southern cities were thwarted by a network of Pullman porters who managed to distribute the paper clandestinely. A Separate World focuses on the years between 1920 and 1930. According to journalist Abie Robinson, editors, writers, cartoonists and photographers were heroes of the Black community, ". . . because we were the only ones able to write and crusade for the things that were in the hearts of Black people." Treason? compares the disparate coverage of the mainstream press and the Black press concerning the contributions of African Americans during WWII. This section revisits the nearly forgotten "Double V" campaign spearheaded by the Pittsburgh Courier that linked the struggle against fascism abroad to segregation at home, and nearly resulted in Black publishers being indicted for sedition. The "Double V" campaign help to lay the ground work for the Civil Rights Movement to come. Putting Itself Out of Business discusses the reasons for the decline of the Black press in the last 30 years, and the residual effect on African American communities.