For the Jackson Advocate
Jackson Advocate: Source and Resource
by Jerry W. Ward, Jr.
For an ordinary reader in the twenty-first century, a newspaper is simply a certain number of pages containing print and photographs. The quality of paper used and specifics of design or packaging of information allow the ordinary reader to distinguish a newspaper from a magazine. The reader is very sure that information in a newspaper must be easy to read. It must be brief. The headline is the story. A magazine paragraph can have four or more sentences. The ideal newspaper paragraph must be limited to three sentences or less. Brevity is all.
Such exaggeration makes a point about African American newspapers. Since the founding of Freedom’s Journal in 1827, many black newspapers have violated the rules of elegant journalism. They have done so out of necessity. They have violated rules and custom in order to expose the more compelling social, political, and cultural violations of rights and entitlements which obtain in the United States of America. Since 1938, the Jackson Advocate has been a player in this game. It has violated some of the laws of journalism and most of the rules of thumb used by ordinary readers. Habitual transgressions have made it a model African American newspaper for 75 years.
The primary mission of the black press (newspapers) has been oppositional. The mission has been one of revealing the facts and events which the so-called mainstream American newspapers have concealed, minimized, or ignored. In this sense, the black newspapers have been more transparent or forthcoming in using the function of journalism in everyday life. At the time of its founding in the State of Mississippi, the Jackson Advocate had to do more than merely print the news. Conditions in Mississippi did not allow the Jackson Advocate the luxury of imitating the debatable “objectivity” of such national papers as the New York Times. It had to be overtly partisan in a closed society where “truth” was a cardinal sin.
We are indebted to the late historian Julius E. Thompson for much that we know about the founding of the Jackson Advocate and its existence as a vital source of information for black Mississippians and the rest of the nation. Thompson, who was relentless in his pursuit of truth, in his research on the facts of African American history, published three books that are essential for understanding the history and importance of the Jackson Advocate:
The Black Press in Mississippi, 1865-1985: A Directory. West Cornwall, CT: Locust Hill Press, 1988.
The Black Press in Mississippi, 1865-1985. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1993.
Percy Greene and the Jackson Advocate: The Life and Times of a Radical Conservative Black Newspaperman, 1897-1977. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, 1994.
Thompson’s work is foundational for any future histories of the Jackson Advocate and of African American journalism.
One tidbit of information about the Jackson Advocate in the 1940s whets one’s appetite to know about the impact of journalism on the evolving of Mississippi’s history. In Lynchings in Mississippi: A History, 1865-1965 (Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, 2007), Thompson noted that in 1942 Percy Greene bravely “spoke out against the deaths by lynching of the two fourteen-year-old black boys in Shubuta, Mississippi.” Other black Mississippi newspapers, notably the Delta Leader and the Mississippi Enterprise, “largely remained silent on the lynching crisis in Mississippi.” When the brilliant editor Charles Tisdale became the Jackson Advocate’s publisher in 1978, he swiftly breathed new life into what had become a conservative, lackluster newspaper. Unlike, Greene, Tisdale was a stalwart radical, a true heir of nineteenth-century nationalists who understood that African American newspapers served as instruments in the long struggle for freedom and literacy. Until his death in 2007, he ensured that the Jackson Advocate would make special contributions to the historical record. Under his leadership, the paper never failed to serve the political, intellectual, and psychological needs of black Mississippians despite many efforts to discredit him and to destroy the Jackson Advocate. Since his death, Alice Thomas -Tisdale has worked tirelessly to maintain her husband’s legacy in the face of irreversible changes in journalism and new information technologies. She is dedicated to maintaining the newspaper as a resource for the future.Any celebration of the newsworthy fact that the Jackson Advocate has survived for 75 years in Jackson, Mississippi must be purposeful. In 2013, the Jackson Advocate should be the central subject of rigorous inquiry about the past and future of African American journalism