The Freedom’s Journal was founded by a group of free black men in New York City. It published the first issue on March 16, 1827. As a four-page, four-column standard-sized weekly, Freedom’s Journal was established the same year that slavery was abolished in New York State. The newspaper founders selected Samuel Cornish and John B. Russwurm as senior and junior editors. Both men were community activists: Cornish was the first to establish an African-American Presbyterian church and Russwurm was a member of the Haitian Emigration Society.
Cornish and Russwurm argue in their first issue: “Too long have others spoken for us, too long the public been deceived by misrepresentations…” They wanted the newspaper to strengthen the common identity of African Americans in society. “We deem it expedient to establish a paper,” they remarked, “and bring into operation all the means with which out benevolent creator has endowed us, for the moral, religious, civil and literary improvement of our race…”
Freedom’s Journal provided it’s readers with regional, national, and international news and with news that could served to both entertain and educate. It sought to improve conditions for over 300,000 newly freed black men and women living in the North. It also discussed current issues, such as the proposal by the American Colonization Society, a mostly white pro-emigration organization founded in 1816 to repatriate free black people to Africa.
As a paper of record, Freedom’s Journal published biographies of prominent blacks such as Paul Cuffee, a black Bostonian who owned a trading ship staffed with free black people, Touissant L’Ouverture and poet Phyllis Wheatley. The newspaper published listings of the births, deaths, and weddings announcements in the African-American community in New York, helping celebrate their achievements. It also printed school, jobs and housing listing.
At various of times the newspaper employed between 14 to 44 agents to collect and renew subscriptions, which cost
$3 per year. One of its agents was David Walker from Boston, eventually became the writer of ” David Walker’s Appeal,” which called for slaves to rebel against their masters. Freedom’s Journal was soon calculated in 11 states. A typical advertisement cost between 25 to 75 cents.
Russwurm became sole editor of Freedom’s Journal following the resignation of Cornish in September 1827, and began to promote the colonization movement. The majority of the newspaper’s readers did not support the paper’s radical shift in support of colonization, and in March 1829, Freedom’s Journal ceased publication. Soon after, Russwurm emigrated to the American Colonization Society of Liberia, and became governor of the Maryland Colony. Cornish returned and attempted to revive the newspaper in May 1829 under the new name “The Rights of All,” but the paper folded after less than a year. Freedom’s Journal’s two-year existence, however, helped spawn other papers. By the start of the Civil War over 40 black-owned and operated papers had been established throughout the United States.