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African American Studies: Newspaper Research

A Research Guide to Collections at Harvard





Newsboy Oliver E. Boykins on his route in 1953.  From a 2012 exhibition, "Growing Up AFRO: Snapshots of Black Childhood from the Afro-American Newspaper," at the  Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History and Culture


Newsboy selling the Chicago Defender, April 1942, Chicago, IL. Farm Security Administration Photo,Library of Congress


The scholarly value of the African American press is immense. As James Danky reminds us in the Harvard Guide to African-American History:

Whether produced by a club, a church, or an independent businessperson, all black newspapers share the same specialty: coverage of local and national events that have been often misrepresented or ignored by mainstream white press.  Research on racial violence, voting, civil rights, education, poverty, and social welfare benefits enormously by utilizing black newspapers.

Through features and obituaries, the papers document family histories and home, farm, and business ownership, making them also key sources for African-American genealogical research. Through articles, essays, fiction, and advertisements, they chronicle the daily life and culture of their subscribers. Only the black papers announced the marriage of the sharecropper's daughter or the graduation of a Harlem student (78-79).



This guide is designed to help you navigate Harvard's extensive and impressive collections of African-American news sources, in print, on microfllm and fiche, and online. You have several wayfinding options, depending on what you need, or what your know already, about these materials,

  • If you are a Harvard undergraduate simply "sampling" African American studies (in a Gen Ed course or first-yearseminar, for example),  Backgrounds and  Newspaper Collections Online will probably be the most immediately useful pages to explore. 
  • Concentrators, graduate students and faculty, on the other hand, may need information about collections and scholarship addressed elsewhere in the guide. 


We welcome your suggestions for expanding the guide and we encourage your questions!

Susan Gilroy, Liaison to African and African American Studies and Librarian for Undergraduate Writing Programs, Harvard College Library