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LSU Professor traces history of black foreign correspondents

28th May 2013   ·   0 Comments

By Travis M. Andrews
Contributing Writer

During World War II, 30 Black journalists helped make history, but for the past 60 some odd years, no one has been talking about them.

The journalists acted as correspondents for the Black press. It wasn’t the first time Black journalists had reported from afar — Frederick Douglass earned that honor in the 1840s when he began writing letters from Britain — but it was what Jinx Broussard, Ph.D., calls the height of the Black foreign correspondent movement.

Seven years ago, Broussard, who teaches media history and public relations at Louisiana State University, began work on a book about Black foreign correspondents. That book, titled African Ameri­can Foreign Correspon­dents: A History, will be released on June 7.

“I knew Black reporters had gone overseas in World War II to cover the war, and I wanted to find out who they were and what they were writing,” she said.

So she embarked on a journey that would teach about a part of media history she calls “invisible.” Black reporting had always been important — she said, “I’m arguing in my book that repressive conditions in America led to the genesis and continuation of Black reporting, because Black reporting was an important antidote to the mainstream media, which treated Blacks as if they were invisible or treated them badly.” — but Black foreign reporting had another aim: “to elevate people at home and aboard.”

The book begins with Frederick Douglass and moves through history until the movement began to quiet down around the time of the Korean War and through Vietnam, when The New York Times finally sent a Black correspondent of its own, Tom Johnson, to report. Much of the focus is on World War II.

“People involved in media history consider World War II to be the golden age of Black foreign reporting,” Broussard said. “If not for Black correspondents, the world would not know about the Tuskegee Airmen.”

These men and women served a dual role from afar, that of objective journalist and conscious advocate.

“These Black correspondents were also hoping America understood how much Blacks loved their country,” she said. “[But], they were not what we call spin in public relations. They told objective stories. In telling the truth, their stories were objective.”

Some, like Mary Ann Shadd Cary, left America for foreign soil both for their own safety and for protection. Though Shadd Cary’s family had wealth, she left for Canada after the Compromise of 1850 and its fugitive slave clause.

“She said she would not remain in a country that would pass such an odious act,” Broussard said.

Others simply acted as reporters for Black outlets like the Chicago Defender and the Associated Negro Press, which existed from 1919 to 1967. The thing that tied these journalists together was their place outside of the mainstream media and outside of American soil.

Broussard spent seven years researching the book, and found that time not to be without setbacks. She began before Hurricane Katrina. “I had the materials in a plastic file box next to my bed, and when I left for Katrina, I left those files,” she said. Of course, those files weren’t there when she returned, prompting her to start over.

But she did, and after years of labor, her book will be released through LSU Press on June 7. Equal parts nervous and excited, Broussard is proud to tell the stories of these men and women.

“They were stars,” Broussard said. “They were heroes. They were truth-tellers.”

This article originally published in the May 27, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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