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Abolitionist Newspaper Returns 200 Years after Its Launch


Amber Payne, left, and Deborah Douglas co-editors-in-chief of the new online publication of "The Emancipator" pose at their office inside the Boston Globe, Feb. 2, 2022, in Boston. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
Abolitionist Newspaper Returns 200 Years after Its Launch
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The first abolitionist newspaper in the United States is returning to publication more than 200 years after its launch in 1820.

The new version of the anti-slavery publication The Emancipator is a joint effort by Boston University’s Center for Antiracist Research and The Boston Globe newspaper.

Deborah Douglas and Amber Payne are co-editors-in-chief of the new online publication. They say the site will include opinion pieces, multimedia series, and other content by respected scholars and seasoned journalists. The goal, they say, is to redirect the national conversation around racial injustice.

“I like to say it’s anti-racism, every day, on purpose,” said Douglas. She joined the project after working as a journalism professor at DePauw University in Indiana.

“We are targeting anyone who wants to be a part of the solution to creating an anti-racist society because we think that leads us to our true north, which is democracy.”

The Emancipator was founded in 1820 in Jonesborough, Tennessee, by iron manufacturer Elihu Embree. Its stated purpose was “the abolition of slavery” as well as collecting important documents on the subject of slavery. The University of Tennessee holds a digital collection of copies of the newspaper.

The Emancipator reached about 2,000 readers. Copies were sent across the South and to readers in several northern cities that were centers of the abolition movement. These included Boston, Massachusetts and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

“Those abolitionists were considered radical and extreme,” Douglas said. “But that’s part of our job as journalists — providing those tools, those perspectives that can help them imagine a different world.”

Similar projects have also recently come online, including The North Star, a media site launched in 2019 by civil rights activist Shaun King and journalist Benjamin Dixon. They say its aim is to bring back Frederick Douglass’ important anti-slavery newspaper. The American scholar, abolitionist and former slave was one of the most influential thinkers of the 1800s.

Douglas said The Emancipator will be free to the public and donations will support its production. The site will center on scholarly work and thought --- not breaking news, she said.

“This is really deep reporting, deep research and deep analysis that’s scholarly driven, but written at a level that everyone can understand,” Douglas said, adding “Everyone is invited,” to the discussion.

The publication also hopes to fight racist misinformation by using explanatory videos and written pieces, she said.

The Emancipator’s Amber Payne spoke of another major goal for the publication: reporting about solutions to some of the nation’s most difficult racial problems.

“There are community groups, advocates and legislators who are really taking matters into their own hands so how do we amplify those solutions and get those stories told?” she said.

Payne joined the project after working at BET.com and Teen Vogue magazine.

“There’s so much scholarly research that just doesn’t fit into a neat, 800-word Washington Post op-ed,” she said, adding that the new paper is “uniquely positioned.”

The project has already posted a few pieces. For the one-year anniversary of the January 6 attack at the U.S. Capitol building, The Emancipator published its discussion with a Harvard social justice professor and commentary from a Boston College poetry professor.

The Emancipator is centered on the Black community. But, Douglas and Payne say it will also report on issues affecting other minority communities, such as the rise in crimes against Asian-Americans during the pandemic.

I’m Susan Shand.

The Associated Press reported this story. Susan Shand adapted it for Learning English.

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Words in This Story

abolition – n. being against something, such as slavery

scholar – n. a person who has studied a subject for a long time and knows a lot about it

journalist – n. the activity or job of collecting, writing, and editing news stories for newspapers, magazines, television, or radio

society – n. the people of a particular country, area, time, etc., thought of especially as an organized community

radical – adj. very new and different from what is traditional or ordinary

perspective – n. a way of thinking about and understanding something (such as a particular issue or life in general)

analysis – n. a careful study of something to learn about its parts, what they do, and how they are related to each other

advocate – v. a person who argues for or supports a cause or policy

amplify – v. to give more information about

unique adj. special or unlike other things

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