Freedom, May-June 1955-06.jpg
Front page of Freedom newspaper,
Vol. 5, No. 5, May – June 1955
EditorLouis E. Burnham
Staff writersPaul Robeson
Lorraine Hansberry
Alice Childress
Thelma Dale
Lloyd L. Brown
John H. Clarke
PhotographerInge Hardison
CategoriesAfrican-American newspapers
FrequencyMonthly; bimonthly in 1954–1955 summers
PublisherFreedom Associates
FounderPaul Robeson
W. E. B. Du Bois
First issueNovember 1950; 71 years ago (1950-11)
Final issue
August 1955 (1955-08)
Vol 5 No 6
CountryUnited States
Based inNew York City
LanguageEnglish language

Freedom was a monthly newspaper focused on African-American issues published between 1950–1955. The publication was associated primarily with the internationally renowned singer, actor and then officially disfavored activist Paul Robeson, whose column, with his photograph, ran on most of its front pages. Freedom's motto was: "Where one is enslaved, all are in chains!"[1] The newspaper has been described as "the most visible African American Left cultural institution during the early 1950s."[2] In another characterization, "Freedom paper was basically an attempt by a small group of black activists, most of them Communists, to provide Robeson with a base in Harlem and a means of reaching his public... The paper offered more coverage of the labor movement than nearly any other publication, particularly of the left-led unions that were expelled from the CIO in the late 1940s... [It] encouraged its African American readership to identify its struggles with anti-colonial movements in Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean. Freedom gave extensive publicity to... the struggle against apartheid."[3]


Freedom was planned as a joint venture by Robeson and W. E. B. Du Bois. It was named after Freedom's Journal, the first Black newspaper published in the United States.[4] Louis Burnham, the former executive secretary of the Southern Negro Youth Congress (SNYC), was the Managing Editor of Freedom. Burnham was responsible for getting the monthly started.[5] George B. Murphy Jr. (vice chairman of the American Committee for the Protection of Foreign Born and vice president of the International Workers Order), was the general manager. The monthly shared office space and staff with the Council on African Affairs.[6] Each issue cost $0.10; a subscription for a year was $1.[7]

When Lorraine Hansberry, later a Tony award-winning playwright but then (in her own description) a confused 21 year old, went to work for Freedom soon after its founding, she found "an office furnished with two desks, one typewriter and a remarkably enthusiastic working staff of two": Louis Burnham, the editor, and Edith Roberts, the office manager.[8]

The periodical became a magnet for primarily African-American leftist activists and artists, including Esther Cooper Jackson, former SNYC executive Edward Strong, historian Herbert Aptheker, members of the New York Negro Labor Council and members of the Committee for the Negro in the Arts, including Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee and Harry Belafonte.[9] It promoted African-American culture, showcasing, among others, playwright Lorraine Hansberry, playwright and fiction writer Alice Childress (whose novel Like One of the Family first appeared serially in Freedom), novelists Lloyd Brown, Julian Mayfield, and John O. Killens, and poet Frank Marshall Davis.[10] Alice Childress recalled "Eslanda Robeson bringing in the works of young artists, introducing them to the editor, asking him to give them an opportunity to present their talents in Freedom."[4]

It supported the working class and the labor movement, as well as a variety of international issues, including world peace, human rights in Latin America, and the anti-colonial freedom struggle. It advocated for third-party politics.[5] A rarity among American newspapers, Freedom consistently opposed the Korean War, linking the conflict to colonialism, discrimination against Black people in the armed forces, and Jim Crow laws at home.[11] Presciently, in a front page Freedom column, "Ho Chi Minh is Toussaint L'Ouverture of Indo China," Robeson asked [emphasis in the original]: "Shall Negro sharecroppers from Mississippi be sent to shoot down brown-skinned peasants in Vietnam—to serve the interests of those who oppose Negro liberation at home and colonial freedom abroad?"[12]

Women on the editorial board, and among its contributors, brought a proto-feminist viewpoint to Freedom, which published pieces expressing those views. Among these women were Vicki Garvin, whose article in the first issue began, "If it is true, as has often been stated, that a people can rise no higher than its women, then Negro people have a long way to go before reaching the ultimate goal of complete freedom and equality in the United States."[13] Lorraine Hansberry started at Freedom as a subscription clerk, and subsequently worked as receptionist, typist, editorial assistant and ultimately associate editor. Hansberry covered local, national, and international stories that involved both national and international travel. Other contributors included Childress, Dorothy Burnham and Eslanda Goode Robeson. Thelma Dale worked at the monthly. Shirley Graham Du Bois was part of the "Freedom Family"[6] as the paper's associates referred to themselves.[14]

Freedom put on pageants celebrating African-American history. To commemorate the newspaper's first birthday, Hansberry wrote the script for a rally at Rockland Palace, a then-famous Harlem hall,[15] on "the history of the Negro newspaper in America and its fighting role in the struggle for a people's freedom, from 1827 to the birth of FREEDOM." Performers in this pageant included Robeson, his longtime accompanist Lawrence Brown, the multi-discipline artist Asadata Dafora, and numerous others.[16] The following year, Hansberry and Childress, an already produced playwright, collaborated on a pageant for Freedom's Negro History Festival, with Harry Belafonte, Sidney Poitier, Douglas Turner Ward and John O. Killens providing narration.[17]

Freedom ceased publication after its July–August 1955 issue, which included an appeal for financial support on its front page.[18] Ultimately, the monthly failed due not only to financial difficulties, but also to anti-communist FBI harassment.[9] Because of McCarthyism, most Blacks were reluctant to have any association with Robeson or his publication. Although buying a Robeson concert ticket often included a subscription to Freedom, the FBI photographed attendees and recorded their license plate numbers, which would also especially discourage government employees. State and city governments prevented large venues from hosting Robeson, further limiting concert attendance to smaller facilities such as churches and union halls.[11]


Following the failure of Freedom, many of those associated with it were able to initiate another periodical, Freedomways. The new quarterly, energized by the revival of the Civil Rights Movement, maintained Freedom's anti-imperialist and anti-Jim Crow stance, while continuing to support Black culture and feminism.[10] In its final issue, the editorial in Freedomways acknowledged the importance of its predecessor Freedom: "The titles of two ventures in publishing helped inspire our name—most significantly, Freedom Newspaper, published by Paul Robeson and edited by Louis E. Burnham, which made such a valuable contribution to our movement in the ’50s."[19]

See also


  1. ^ "Freedom". NYU Libraries. Retrieved 30 June 2020.
  2. ^ Smethurst, James (2005). The Black Arts Movement: literary nationalism in the 1960s and 1970s. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. p. 45. ISBN 0807855987. OCLC 868517353.
  3. ^ Lamphere, Lawrence (2003). Paul Robeson, Freedom newspaper, and the black press (PhD). Boston College. p. 125. Quoted in Rocksborough-Smith, Ian (29 July 2005). "A group of friends" (PDF). Bearing the Seeds of Struggle: Freedomways Magazine, Black Leftists, and Continuities in the Freedom Movement (MA). Simon Fraser University. p. 4. Retrieved 30 June 2020. and Fraser, Rhone Sebastian (August 2012). Publishing Freedom: African American Editors and the Long Civil Rights Struggle, 1900-1955 (PhD). Temple University. OCLC 864885538. Retrieved 23 August 2020.
  4. ^ a b "By Alice Childress". Paul Robeson, the Great Forerunner by the Editors of Freedomways. New York: International Publishers. 1998. p. 273. ISBN 071780724X. OCLC 38411295.
  5. ^ a b Goodman, Jordan (2013). "But Not Out". Paul Robeson : a watched man. London New York: Verso. ISBN 978-1781681312. OCLC 871707576.
  6. ^ a b Higashida, Cheryl (2011). "The Negro Question, the Woman Question, and the 'Vital Link': Histories and Institutions". Black internationalist feminism: women writers of the Black left, 1945-1995. Urbana: University of Illinois Press. ISBN 978-0252093548. OCLC 767775665.
  7. ^ Washington, Mary (2014). The other blacklist : the African American literary and cultural left of the 1950s. New York New York: Columbia University Press. ISBN 9780231526470. OCLC 1088439510. Retrieved 3 November 2020.
  8. ^ Anderson, Michael (2008). "Lorraine Hansberry's Freedom Family". American Communist History. 7 (2): 259–269. doi:10.1080/14743890802580131. S2CID 159832248.
  9. ^ a b Rocksborough-Smith, Ian (29 July 2005). "A group of friends" (PDF). Bearing the Seeds of Struggle: Freedomways Magazine, Black Leftists, and Continuities in the Freedom Movement (MA). Simon Fraser University. Retrieved 30 June 2020.
  10. ^ a b Smethurst, James (2008). "SNYC, Freedomways, and the Influence of the Popular Front in the South on the Black Arts Movement". Reconstruction: Studies in Contemporary Culture. 8 (1). Archived from the original on 2009-12-08. Retrieved 1 July 2020.
  11. ^ a b Lamphere, Lawrence (2002). "Paul Robeson, Freedom Newspaper, and the Korean War". In Dorinson, Joseph; Pencak, William (eds.). Paul Robeson : essays on his life and legacy. Jefferson, N.C: McFarland. pp. 133–142. ISBN 1476604584. OCLC 1059004452.
  12. ^ Robeson, Paul (March 1954). "Ho Chi Minh is Toussaint L'Ouverture of Indo China". Freedom. Vol. 4, no. 3. Freedom Associates. hdl:2333.1/wh70s346. Retrieved 28 August 2020.
  13. ^ Garvin, Vicki (March 1954). "Union Leader Challenges Progressive America". Freedom. No. Introductory Issue. Freedom Associates. p. 5. hdl:2333.1/j9kd55h3. Retrieved 28 August 2020.
  14. ^ Duberman, Martin (2014). Paul Robeson : a biography. New York: Open Road Media. ISBN 978-1497635364. OCLC 894737213.
  15. ^ "The Rockland Palace Dance Hall, Harlem NY 1920". Harlem World. Harlem World Magazine. Retrieved 17 November 2020.
  16. ^ Murphy, Jr., George B. (December 1951). "In the Freedom Family". Freedom. Vol. 1, no. 12. Freedom Associates. p. 3. hdl:2333.1/44j0ztf0. Retrieved 16 November 2020.
  17. ^ Perry, Imani (2018). Looking for Lorraine : the radiant and radical life of Lorraine Hansberry. Boston, Massachusetts: Beacon Press. ISBN 978-0807039830. OCLC 1080274303. Retrieved 17 November 2020.
  18. ^ "Answer this Question". Freedom. 5 (6): 1. hdl:2333.1/vhhmgvws. Retrieved 28 August 2020.
  19. ^ "Tracing the Freedom Way: A Tribute" (PDF). Freedomways. XXV (3): 131. 1985. JSTOR community.28037072. OCLC 819195. Retrieved 27 August 2020.

Further reading