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Newseum Spotlights Ethnic Media and Media of Color

Margaret Summers | 2/7/2014, 8:56 p.m.
Cathy Hughes, who got her start working in local radio, went on to found the Radio One and TV One networks. Hughes and her media companies will be among the contemporary ethnic media and media of color featured in the Newseum exhibit, "One Nation With News for All." (Jason Miccola/Johnson Photography/Radio One, Inc.)

During the early 1800s when slavery was flourishing in the U.S., two African-American freedmen in New York, Samuel Cornish and John B. Russwurm, launched the nation's first African-American weekly newspaper, Freedom's Journal.

"We wish to plead our own cause," wrote the co-editors on the first edition’s front page. "Too long have others spoken for us."

This spring, the Newseum, in partnership with the Smithsonian Institution, will open "One Nation With News for All," an exhibit recognizing historical figures of color and ethnic groups in the U.S. media such as Cornish and Russworm, and their role as a voice for people of color and immigrants seeking citizenship.

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Freedom's Journal's front page, third edition. The first African-American newspaper published in the U.S. will be featured in the Newseum exhibit, "One Nation With News for All." (Courtesy photo)

"Ethnic media and media of color is the story of America," said Patty Rhule, the Newseum's senior manager of exhibit development. "They drew attention to issues that mainstream media wasn't covering. They covered stories that would not otherwise be told.

"For much of America's history, news was controlled largely by white males," Rhule said. "Even in colonial times, news was told from their points of view, not from the views of women, or people who spoke Spanish. But stories told by ethnic media and media of color are just as [significant]. Mainstream media is recognizing the importance of other audiences. As our country grows more diverse, stories told by ethnic media and media of color will help us all understand each other better."

Rhule said the exhibit will consist of 60 artifacts, including El Misisipi, the earliest known Spanish-language newspaper in the U.S. published in New Orleans beginning in 1808; Freedom's Journal, founded in 1827; the Cherokee Phoenix, the first Native American newspaper, published in 1828 to advocate for the rights of Native Americans; and Golden Hills' News, the first Chinese-language Asian-American newspaper, published in 1854. Golden Hills' News was founded to assist Chinese immigrants who flocked to California during the "gold rush," hoping to discover gold and strike it rich.

"I don't think these newspapers have ever been together in one exhibit before," Rhule said. "Our [exhibit] team has been reaching out to people nationally to find and collect archival newspapers and other materials. It has been an exciting process.”

Rhule said one artifact of particular interest is Ida B. Wells' diary. Wells, one of few African-American women reporters in that era, wrote articles against lynching that were published in African-American newspapers.

Today's ethnic media and media of color generates its own news and presents a unique editorial perspective on current events. In the aftermaths of Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy, Rhule said, ethnic news media and media of color worked to reunite families separated in the storms. Contemporary ethnic media and media of color featured in the exhibit will include the Radio One network, ImpreMedia, the largest U.S.-based Spanish-language news operation, and the national "Angry Asian Man" blog.

"I hope that visitors to the exhibit gain a new appreciation of ethnic media and media of color, and how they changed the country with their fight for equality and justice," Rhule said. "Theirs is not just a history story but a today story, as they are covering news in new and exciting ways."

The "One Nation With News for All" exhibit opens May 16 and runs through Jan. 4, 2015. The Newseum is located at 555 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, D.C.

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