Researching Black Newspapers
The process by which I added papers to my checklist was simple. It was source by source, list by list, one by one.
Around twenty years ago while researching my book, Bibliographic Checklist of African American Newspapers, I found two black newspapers in Waterloo, Iowa listed in the Editor and Publisher Yearbook of 1941 and 1975-1977, Henry LaBrie’s The Black Newspaper in America, A Guide and The Ebony Handbook, but not in any of the Union List sources. I had never heard of Waterloo, Iowa and wondered about the origin of the town’s name, the age of the town, a possible connection with the Battle of Waterloo. This was before Wikipedia, I didn’t actually research any of those questions, I was just curious.
A Union List, if you are just curious, is a collection of catalogued sources and their physical locations. The National Union Catalog of Manuscript Collections NUCMC and FirstSearch including WorldCat, generally available through local public and university libraries, are two major ones. A union list of digitized libraries, 250+ Killer Digital Libraries and Archives and a list of places from the Library of Congress to check for online books, are now available. Winifred Gregory’s book, American Newspapers 1821-1936: A Union List of Files Available in the United States and Canada was the first comprehensive union list for newspapers….
But I Wish I Could
I knew nothing other than the titles, Observer and Defender, for the Waterloo black newspapers. A truism, where there was one African American newspaper, there were more. Instead of stopping with just that little bit of knowledge, like I had for so many other titles, I called the reference librarian in Waterloo Public Library. Never underestimate the knowledge or power of a reference librarian. She did not have copies of the newspapers or know the dates, frequencies or editors, but she knew who to ask. She referred me to a wonderful woman in town, Mrs. Ada Treadwell, who probably had what were then the only known extant copies of several Waterloo black newspapers. She told me she had copies of some newspapers carefully stacked up in her basement including, additionally, the Star, Post and Special Delivery. I was so excited I could barely stand it.
The basement part made me anxious, I checked a map and sure enough, the Cedar River flows through town. I didn’t want to learn the newspapers existed and then hear about a flood ruining the only known copies. I knew Jim Danky in Wisconsin was in the process of collecting and microfilming as many black periodicals as he could and thought he would like to add a couple more. I asked Mrs. Treadwell if she would be interested and willing to have her newspapers microfilmed, introduced them by mail and phone and went away, everybody a winner. I entered her name into my sources, added the Waterloo papers to my checklist and smiled to think I was partially instrumental in having those titles filmed and preserved for posterity. This was a special case. Generally, the process was about reading book after book, source after source, integrating list after list.
Later when telling the story, a friend asked how I could add those papers to my list without seeing them. I laughed and explained that other than the newspapers available for research at the Western Reserve Historical Society Library, I had not touched nor laid eyes on any of the newspapers in my checklist; photostats, microfilm or xerox copies yes, but the actual physical newspapers, no. My checklist was essentially a list of lists. I collected any mention of black newspapers, any time, any place. For each source, the title was entered in the list alphabetically by the state and then city of publication, along with the various frequencies, any known publication dates and source codes. Problems arose from the differentiating or melding processes, was this Times the same as that Times. More information about newspaper titles, sources and dates are addressed in a separate Genealogy Article entitled Newspapers, Research and Sources.
Waiting for books to arrive through Inter Library Loan (ILL) is hard, especially in the digital age. So many reference books have been digitized now that you don’t have to use ILL. Links follow for two digitized sources:
- The Negro Year Book: A Review of Events Affecting Negro Life, 1941-1946, Jessie Parkhurst Guzman, editor, published in 1947 and digitized by Internet Archives, does not list a newspaper on page 400 in either Waterloo, Iowa or Columbus, Georgia.
- The N. W. Ayer & Son’s Newspaper Annual, 1902 Edition, page 118, lists the Times (Colored) in Columbus, Georgia Saturday Republican 1901 4 15 x 22 $1 no circulation numbers, J.B. Epton, B. D., Editor and Publisher. None of the Waterloo, Iowa newspapers on page 280 were annotated as (Colored).
Recently, I decided my stack of author’s copies should not be gathering dust, they should be sold to libraries. Matt Gore my web site designer, and I, set up a web site to facilitate the process of selling the books and to let others know they could hire me as a researcher. The web site doubled the number of queries and questions about my book in six months. This is great. I hope it is the precursor for finding many more physical copies of newspapers not yet identified or filmed.