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DVD,DVD + 3-Year Site/Local Streaming and Three-Year Site/Local Streaming Renewal
86 minutes, 1998,  
Producer: Stanley Nelson
Narrator: Joe Morton, Original Music: Ron Carter
An online FACILITATOR GUIDE is available for this title.
  • 2000 Alfred I. duPont Award Winner
  • 1999 Sundance Film Festival Award Winner
  • 1999 SF Film Festival: Golden Spire Award

  • 1998 American Library Association: Distinguished Video for Adults

    Now available for 48 hour digital rental to individuals on Vimeo.

    The Black Press: Soldiers Without Swords is the first film to chronicle the history of the Black press, including its central role in the construction of modern African American identity. It recounts the largely forgotten stories of generations of Black journalists who risked life and livelihood so African Americans could represent themselves in their own words and images.

    The Black Press takes viewers "behind the veil" of segregation to recover a distinctly Black perspective on key events from antebellum America to the Civil Rights Movement. It offers an intimate social history of African American life during these turbulent years - the achievements trumpeted, defeats pondered, celebrities admired, even the products advertised.

    From the founding of the first Black newspaper, Freedom's Journal in 1827, Black abolitionists like Frederick Douglass recognized the press as a powerful weapon against the enforced silence of slavery. This tradition of crusading journalism was carried on by pioneering scribes like Ida B. Wells, one of the first female newspaper owners in America and a leader in the fight against lynchings and Jim Crow. Robert S. Abbott built the Chicago Defender into the most powerful and successful Black-owned newspaper of all time and is often credited with inspiring the Great Migration of African Americans from the South to northern cities.

    The Black Press goes on to contrast mainstream coverage of World War II with the nearly forgotten "Double V" campaign spearheaded by the Pittsburgh Courier. Black newspapers, linking the struggle against fascism abroad to segregation at home, terrified J. Edgar Hoover into trying to indict them for sedition, and helped lay the groundwork for the Civil Rights Movement to come. Charlotta Bass, editor and publisher of the California Eagle for 40 years, ran for Vice President on the Progressive Party ticket in 1952, the first African American to run for national office.

    Ironically, the Black press in a sense became a victim of the success of the very movements it nurtured. During the Civil Rights struggles and urban insurrections of the 1960s, white-owned papers at last began to hire African American journalists and even compete for Black readership. The film asks if integration into the mainstream media has left many communities bereft of a committed Black journalistic presence.

    The Black Press commemorates a heroic and indispensable chapter in the ongoing struggle for a diverse and democratic media. It demonstrates that the written word has been as fundamental as music or religion to the evolution of African American consciousness. And it will convince students that it is as important today as in the past for Black media professionals to play a vigorous role not just in print media but in the rapidly evolving information technologies of the future.

    Filmmaker Stanley Nelson is an Emmy and Sundance award-winning director and producer. His works explore African-American lives and issues such as Two Dollars and a Dream: The Story of Madame C.J. Walker, America’s first self-made African American female millionaire, and The Murder of Emmet Till, which won an Emmy award, and the 2006 film Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple that detailed the journey of religious leader Jim Jones. Nelson has received a CINE Golden Eagle Award, an Emmy, the Sundance Film Festival 2003 Special Jury Prize, and a George Foster Peabody Award for his work.

  • Online Teacher's Guide and classroom activities
  • About MacArthur Genius Award winner
    Stanley Nelson
    An online transcript is available for this title.
    An online facilitator guide is available for this title.
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    "This excellent film about the history of the Black press will be of enormous value. It brings to life those dynamic newspapermen who used the press to build community, celebrate achievement, and fight for black liberation."
    Darlene Clark Hine, Michigan State University
    "Poignantly illustrates the dynamic impact the Black press had on the social, economic and political evolution of African Americans...an invaluable educational tool."
    Kweisi Mfume, President, NAACP
    "An excellent work for jounalism, communications and social history classes, better than any single book on the topic available."
    Michael Schudson, University of California-San Diego
    "Retrieves an important missing page from American history and brings it virtually to life. It's beautifully produced and directed and tells a story as only a powerful film can."
    Bill Moyers
    "An elegantly crafted statement of the enduring imperative for African Americans to 'plead our own cause.' Only a brother with the sensitive soul of the griot nurtured by the Diaspora could have put this historic documentary together. Wherever we teach African American history, Soldiers Without Swords will always be there."
    Chuck Stone, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill
    "Stanley Nelson's stellar documentary masterfully tells the tale of the scribbling pioneers to whom we owe so much and of whom each black writer today is an heir."
    Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Harvard University


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