Howard University gets a $2 million grant to digitize a Black newspaper archive

The major collection contains over 2,000 newspaper titles, including the Chicago Defender.

an electronic signboard welcomes people to the Howard University campus in Washington
A foundation is donating $2 million to Howard University to digitize a major collection of Black newspaper archives in hopes of making it more broadly available to researchers and the general public. Jacquelyn Martin / Associated Press
an electronic signboard welcomes people to the Howard University campus in Washington
A foundation is donating $2 million to Howard University to digitize a major collection of Black newspaper archives in hopes of making it more broadly available to researchers and the general public. Jacquelyn Martin / Associated Press

Howard University gets a $2 million grant to digitize a Black newspaper archive

The major collection contains over 2,000 newspaper titles, including the Chicago Defender.

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Howard University has received a $2 million donation to digitize a major collection of Black newspaper archives in hopes of making it more broadly available to researchers and the public.

The Black Press Archives, dating to the 1970s, contains over 2,000 newspaper titles from the U.S. and countries in Africa and the Caribbean. It includes well-known U.S. papers like the Chicago Defender and New York Amsterdam News as well as publications in French, Xhosa and Kiswahili.

But most of the collection has been inaccessible to the public, with only a small percentage of materials microfilmed and the physical copies fragile, said Benjamin Talton, director of Howard’s Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, which houses the archives.

“Once digitized, Howard’s Black Press Archive will be the largest, most diverse, and the world’s most accessible Black newspaper database,” he said in an email.

The Center for Journalism & Democracy at Howard, a historically Black university in Washington, D.C., helped get the grant from the Jonathan Logan Family Foundation, which supports social justice causes in journalism and the arts.

Journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones poses for a portrait
Journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones poses for a portrait at the headquarters of The Associated Press in New York, Friday, Dec. 10, 2021. Robert Bumsted / Associated Press

It’s important to have access to the Black papers to have a better sense of the past, said Pulitzer winner and New York Times journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones, who founded the journalism center to increase diversity in the industry.

“We will be able to go back and look at these archives and these newspapers and the way the Black press was covering the world and have a greater understanding of who we are as a society, who we were back then and who we are now,” she said. “Right now, we really are only getting a very narrow part of the story, and that is the part of the story told through power and through the ruling class.”