Rev. Al Sharpton's Weekly Blog

Sharpton: Happy Birthday Amsterdam News!

Dec 09, 2009

As I walked into Lincoln Center for the New York Amsterdam News’ 100th anniversary celebration, I thought about how in my own life, the first newspaper I constantly read was the New York Amsterdam News. As one who grew up in the Black church with a Black mother who not only encouraged, but insisted that we be informed, the Amsterdam News covered every aspect of the breadth of Black life in New York. From the church scene to politics, from social themes to fashion—even though many viewed it as one dimensional—it covered all of Black life from the gossip to the gospel.

Founded in 1909, at time when our people were just two generations removed slavery, those who had to endure segregation knew we needed a voice and knew we needed a platform to not only tell our stories and represent our interests, but to also reflect our lifestyle. From then until now—when a Black family lives in the White House—the Amsterdam News has consistently provided that platform for all aspects for Black life in New York

So as I stood to give the opening remarks and invocation and looked out into an audience of elected officials and grassroots residents of Harlem, of household names and ordinary people, I saw a diversity of Black life that most non-Blacks would have no idea exists, unless they read the Amsterdam News. We have not only been politically marginalized and economically exploited, we have been socially ignored. I remembered that it is not even known when prominent members of our community have died until we read the Amsterdam News on Thursday because their lives don’t matter to other papers in New York, but they mean so much to us. As I grew older and more public, I got to know the value of having an organ that told your side, even if it disagreed with you, and an organ that would deal with your views, even if they printed opposing views within the community.

So this celebration raised resources that will guarantee the archives of the Amsterdam News are there for us and future generations. It is to preserve a written history of a people who others were determined would never be recorded and would never matter. The Amsterdam News made us matter because we mattered to them.

I thought about Bill Tatum, whom I knew since I was a teenager and who helped me with National Youth Movement in my teen years and co-founded the Madison Avenue Initiative of National Action Network in recent years and at whose funeral I was honored to give the eulogy. I thought about how proud he would have been as the son of the newspaper publisher to see his daughter continue the family tradition in her own way in her generation.

Every generation will have its own style and its own manifestation of how they see our journey, but the journey must continue—no matter how long the road no matter how dark the path. But the journey will be lost to history if there is no journal to record the journey. Here in New York—from DuBois and Garvey to now—our journal has been the New York Amsterdam News, and our journey will be preserved in its archives.