Amsterdam News in the classroom: John B. Russwurm and Freedom's Journal, the first Black newspaper

JASMIN K. WILLIAMS Special to the AmNews | 9/27/2012, 2:26 p.m.
Amsterdam News in the classroom: John B. Russwurm and Freedom's Journal, the first Black newspaper

"Walker's Appeal" stated: "It is no more harm for you to kill the man who is trying to kill you than it is for you to take a drink of water." His bold call for attack was widely read and popular. Walker distributed copies of his pamphlet in the South, where it was banned.

By 1828, discouraged by the racism and discrimination against Blacks in America, Russwurm began to promote the controversial idea of Black colonies, ideally in Africa, where they could establish new, independent and free lives for themselves, ideas shared by Paul Cuffee and others. Russwurm saw the Republic of Liberia as the answer. He resigned as editor of Freedom's Journal in 1829.

Cornish tried to revive the publication a few months after Russwurm's resignation, calling it The Rights of All, but it folded for good in less than a year.

Freedom's Journal may have only lasted for a short two years, but it opened the door for a wave of Black newspapers. By the time the Civil War started in 1860, there were more than 40 Black owned and operated newspapers in the country.

Life after Freedom's Journal

It was in the summer of 1829 that Russwurm received his master's from Bowdoin. By November, he was headed to Monrovia, Liberia, sent by the American Colonization Society, where he became superintendent of public schools and served as secretary in the colony.

Russwurm quickly learned the language of the locals, and after a few months, he started another paper, the Liberia Herald, which he edited for five years. The publication covered life in the new colony and also the events surrounding the continued slave trade along the African coast.

In 1833, Russwurm married Sarah McGill, the daughter of the lieutenant governor of Monrovia. The couple had a daughter and three sons.

In 1836, Russwurm was appointed governor of the colony of Maryland, one of several separate colonies along the West African coast. He remained in that office until his death. A group of African-American settlers began farming vegetables and coffee and raising livestock. Over the next two decades, more than 1,000 new colonists arrived, establishing churches, schools and a militia. Under Russwurm, Maryland remained stable and flourished.

In 1851, Russwurm came to America for the last time, bringing his sons George and Francis with him. The boys went to live with their step-grandmother, Susan Hawes, and enrolled at North Yarmouth Academy.

Russwurm died in 1851. A memorial was raised to him at Cape Palmas in Liberia, where he completed his mission of helping to develop a place in Africa where Black Americans could control their own lives, their own destinies and enjoy the freedom that was denied to them in America.


  • Look It Up: Use the Internet or other reference source to learn more about John B. Russwurm and Freedom's Journal.
  • Talk About It: Discuss the importance of the Black press, including the paper you are reading right now. Also discuss the American Colonization Society. Do you think it was a good idea?
  • Find It:Use a map or globe to locate Monrovia and Cape Palmas in Liberia.
  • Read This: Visit www.huarchivesnet.howard.edu/0002huarnet/teaching1.htm and read the first editorial published in Freedom's Journal, titled "To Our Patrons," in which editors John Russwurm and the Rev. Samuel E. Cornish describe the need to start a Black newspaper. What was their message and why is it still important today?

This Week in Black History

  • Sept. 24, 1957: A group of Black students known as the "Little Rock Nine" integrate Little Rock Central High School under the escort of federal troops.
  • Sept. 19 - Sept. 26, 1907: The People's Savings Bank is incorporated in Philadelphia on this date by former Black Rep. George H. White. The bank helps hundreds buy homes and start businesses until it closes in 1918.
  • Sept. 29, 1975: WGPR-TV, the first Black-owned station in the country, begins broadcasting in Detroit.