Enjoying this essay and research by Kim Gallon of the Black Press Research Collective:
“The Chicago Defender, also known as the “World’s Greatest Weekly,” encouraged over a million African Americans living in the South to migrate to urban cities such as Chicago, Philadelphia, New York between 1915 and 1925. Founded in 1905 by Robert S. Abbott, it was the largest and best selling black newspaper in the first three decades of the twentieth century.
“Letters to Abbott confirm the Defender’s importance for southern African Americans pushed to the North by Jim Crow racism and pulled by labor opportunities. These letters offer great insight into the everyday lives of Black men and women hoping that the Defender would be their ticket to a different life.
“Like the letters, the “Standing Dealers” map sheds light on the deep significance the Defender had for African Americans. The map represents a very small selection of individuals and businesses who sold the Defender in 1919 and was generated from a list included in a microfilm collection titled, Federal Surveillance of Afro-Americans, 1917-1925: The First World War, the Red Scare and the Garvey Movement edited by Theodore Kornwibel. The original list is located at the National Archives and Records Administration.
“Kornweibel reveals that the Bureau of Investigations (later named the Federal Bureau of Investigations – the FBI) began surveilling the Defender six months before World War I in the fall of 1916. The U.S. government viewed the Defender and its strident criticism of racism and discrimination against African Americans with great suspicion, suspecting that the paper was under a foreign influence determined to overthrow the country. Despite the war’s end in 1918, the Federal government maintained a vigilant watch over many Black newspapers including, and perhaps the most, over the Defender. The government justified the persistent surveillance with their concern of a growing communist threat. In 1919, the Bureau managed to steal a Defender’s subscribers list, which also contained a “Standing Dealers List.”
“The names and addresses of dealers were taken from the list and compiled and entered into a spreadsheet. Some of the dealers’ names on the list are illegible due to the poor quality of the microfilm format resulting in a list that is a much smaller segment of the total numbers of businesses and individuals who sold the Defender in 1919. This number is actually in the thousands and can be found on the original list. Roi Ottley notes that at its peak circulation, the Defender had 2,359 individual agent-correspondents selling the paper throughout the United States. Efforts are being made to obtain a better reproduction of the list and complete the Standing Dealer’s map as well as develop a subscribers’ list map….”
Read the rest of the essay and explore the map here: The Chicago Defender’s Standing Dealers List | Black Press Research Collective