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Then and Now: Maintaining the Legacy of the First Black Daily Newspaper in the U.S

Then and Now: Maintaining the Legacy of the First Black Daily Newspaper in the U.S

A century of commitment to Black stories!

Because of Them We Can is a platform we curated that is dedicated, in thought and deed, to Black excellence — past, present, and future. Birthed out of a dire need for positive Black portrayals in the media, we are committed to amplifying the best and brightest of us and telling the stories that really matter. However, it is important to acknowledge that we do not stand alone. While we are one of many Black media sites out there today, we all stand on the shoulders of a litany of scribes, writers, and griots, giants who contributed to the building of institutions that came long before us. 

There is Ida B. Wells, an activist and educator, and journalist who got her start as a newspaper editor in Memphis, writing against lynching and uncovering the ugly truths about the practice across the American South. 

In Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in All Its Phases, Wells wrote that lynching was "an excuse to get rid of Negroes who were acquiring wealth and property and thus keep the race terrorized." She also wrote an article for the Memphis Free Speech advocating for Black people to leave the towns of their oppressors and move west. The article opened Wells up to regular threats and resulted in them burning down the building of The Memphis Free Speech newspaper. Wells eventually moved north where she could continue her crusade for justice and speak freely about the terrors of the south. 

There is also Mary Ann Shadd Cary, the first Black woman publisher in North America, the first female publisher in Canada, and the creator of the anti-slavery newspaper, The Provincial Freeman. After the death of her husband in 1860, Cary returned to the United States where she helped recruit soldiers for the Union Army. When the Civil War was over, she moved to Washington, D.C., enrolling in Howard University Law School and making history as the second Black woman to earn a law degree in the nation. She continued her work as an activist, teacher, and writer, penning articles for a local Black newspaper entitled The New National Era. She was also a founder of the Colored Women's Progressive Franchise Association and was active in the women's suffrage movement.

Then there was Dr. Louis Charles Roudanez, a free man of color who was born in St. James parish and raised in New Orleans. Roudanez went on to study medicine in Paris, France, earning his first degree. He also received a second medical degree from New Hampshire’s Dartmouth College. 

Influenced by the revolutions in France and Saint Domingue, Dr. Roudanez began looking for ways to fight back against slavery and racial injustices. During the Civil War and Reconstruction era, he focused on fighting for equality, finding his calling in media. In 1862, he partnered with Paul Trévigne and Jean Baptiste Roudanez to create L’Union, the first Black newspaper in the South. On October 4, 1864, Roudanez would branch off on his own, launching La Tribune de la Nouvelle Orlèans, also known as The New Orleans Tribune. The paper made history as the first Black daily newspaper in the United States and was published in both French and English. 

Roudanez was instrumental in assembling a large community of free and formerly enslaved people of African descent, the group publishing regularly about issues of race in America. Faced with the opposition of literal violence, Roudanez continued to attack the racism of his time through his publication, “one of the most radical and influential journals of its time.” 

As a result of the Tribune’s work, Black people became enfranchised, and a state constitution with equal rights provisions was drafted. The Tribune also helped with the election of Black representatives, spearheading social protests and various civil rights campaigns. The Tribune stopped publishing regularly in April of 1868, but it was revived more than a century later by Dr. Dwight McKenna and Mrs. Beverly Stanton McKenna in 1985.  

Today, the site pays tribute to Roudanez’s pioneering work, publishing regular news germane to the Black New Orleans community and issues that have a broader national focus. While they no longer publish in French and English, they still focus directly on advocating for the issues most important to Black readers, continuing the legacy set by Roudanez nearly 160 years ago. 

“It is in the spirit of Roudanez’s Tribune that The New Orleans Tribune proudly [serves] the community today. When you read the modern New Orleans Tribune, one of the most respected African-American community news magazines in America, you are sharing a part of history. While we do not publish in French and English as Roudanez did in the 1860s, we are proud that The New Orleans Tribune speaks the language of the African-American experience,” a message on the site reads.  

Salute to the work of The New Orleans Tribune, past and present, and all founding Black news sites. Because of you, we can!

Then & Now: The Legacy of The New Orleans Tribune. Photo Courtesy of