Van Dora Williams Presents on The Black Press

Associate Professor Dr. Van Dora Williams (program director for Broadcast Media Production, Filmmaking, and Sonic Arts at Champlain College) was an invited panelist at the 13th Annual Black New England Conference. The conference, “Black Ink: African American News from Slave Songs to Social Media” was held October 25-26 at Southern New Hampshire University in Manchester, New Hampshire.

Scholars, historians, and activists came together to share their research on African American News, also known as The Black Press, spanning the past 200 plus years. The conference focused on how the Black Press provides a voice to minorities in America that are not represented in mainstream press.

Williams and three other panelists talked about how the Black Press and the Black community have responded to cultural, social and political movements that have been major issues covered in newspaper, radio, television, and film.

Williams spoke about her research on the Black Press’ reaction to the film Birth of a Nation, a 1915 silent American blockbuster about the southern Ku-Klux-Klan reclaiming their heritage from the “evil” Negroes. The film featured white actors in blackface and portrayed black people as either sex-crazed men or docile, idiotic servants.

The Black Press was essentially disbanded in the late 1960s—the White Press absorbed members of the Black Press, due to economic conditions. Some news sources are still alive today, but they’re scattered. Although the Black Press isn’t as prevalent anymore, as Williams said, “…the value of it, and what it did do in its heyday—it’s incalculable.”

This was Williams’ first time attending the conference, but she would like to return. In addition to sharing her research, she said she learned a lot.

Erika Skorstad ’21—Contributor