Reference Entry

New National Era

Kate Masur

in Encyclopedia of African American History, 1619-1895: From the Colonial Period to the Age of Frederick Douglass

Published in print January 2006 | ISBN: 9780195167771
New National Era

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Published in Washington, D.C., the New National Era was an important voice in African American national politics and provided an outlet for black perspectives on local affairs. Although edited by the internationally renowned black civil rights activist Frederick Douglass for much of its existence, the weekly newspaper struggled financially and folded in 1874 after four and one-half years of publication. Planning for the paper began in 1869, when several prominent African Americans living in Washington urged Douglass to become the editor of a publication they hoped to establish. Douglass, living in Rochester, New York, was skeptical that the proposed venture would have sufficient funding. By the end of the year, however, he had agreed to serve as corresponding editor of a newspaper called the New Era, which John Sella Martin, a well-known black minister, would edit. In the spring of 1870 Martin was optimistic about the newspaper's prospects. That summer, however, it became clear that the paper's income was not meeting expenses. Martin left Washington, disillusioned and in search of paying work. To save the newspaper, and probably to help his sons Lewis and Frederick Jr., who eventually took over the paper, Douglass increased his investment, ultimately purchasing not only the newspaper itself but also the machinery that printed it. He became editor in chief in September 1870 and renamed the publication the New National Era. “I trust you. Do not doubt me,” he wrote to his readers in his first column in his new role. With readers' support, he predicted, the New National Era would “increase self-reliance, self-respect, self-help, inspire our young men with manly ambition, lift them to a higher social level, and lead our whole people onward in the pathway of civilization.” Over the subsequent years the New National Era reported and editorialized on a range of issues, including the growing violence against African Americans in the South, the exploitation of laborers, African American emigration, foreign policy (especially as it related to Africa and the Caribbean), financial policy, civil service reform, and the civil and political rights of African Americans and women. The newspaper was also an outlet for Douglass's growing conviction that the Republican Party, despite its shortcomings, was the best political option for African Americans. Douglass believed that free expression was vital to the forging of African Americans' future. He took pride in publishing an array of opinions from correspondents nationwide, and he did not hesitate to use his editorial column as a platform for his own views. The newspaper never generated enough income to cover its operating costs. From late 1872 onward Douglass stepped back and allowed his sons to publish and edit the newspaper. The New National Era folded in 1874 after a nationwide financial crash made its money troubles insoluble. Douglass was later bitter about the venture, writing in his third autobiography, Life and Times of Frederick Douglass, that although the paper had been “valuable while it lasted,” Martin and others had misled him in 1869 about its financial backing, and getting involved had cost him considerable money. “I have kept well out of newspaper undertakings since,” he concluded. See also Black Press; Civil Rights; Douglass, Frederick; Douglass, Frederick, Jr.; Douglass, Lewis Henry; Emigration to Africa; Entrepreneurs; Feminist Movement; Foreign Policy; Identity; Life and Times of Frederick Douglass; Progress; Republican Party; and Washington, D.C.

Reference Entry.  653 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History

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