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Mediating America: Black and Irish Press and the Struggle for Citizenship, 1870-1914

  • Author(s): Shott, Brian H.
  • Advisor(s): Brundage, David
  • et al.

ABSTRACT: Brian H. Shott, “Mediating America: Black and Irish Press and the Struggle for Citizenship, 1870-1914”

This study explores the lives of four African American and Irish American editors in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries—Father Peter C. Yorke, T. Thomas Fortune, J. Samuel Stemons, and Patrick Ford—and how they understood and advocated for group interests through their newspaper presses. Unlike other studies of the black and ethnic press, I ask how the medium itself—through illustrations, cartoons, and halftone photographs; as a site of labor and profit; via advertisements and page layout; and by way of its evolving conventions and technology—shaped and constrained editors’ roles in debates over race and citizenship during a tumultuous time of social unrest and imperial expansion. Important scholarship has explored how newspapers helped disparate individuals imagine themselves as members of nation-states; less attention has been paid to newspapers’ role in expanding or, conversely, policing, notions of citizenship within the nation. Yorke, Fortune, Stemons, Ford, and other black and Irish journalists fought fiercely for inclusion within citizenship's contested boundaries.

In the years following most major studies of these presses, scholars have produced a wealth of work on the fluidity and complexity of race. Historians of religion, furthermore, now argue that religious belief contributed markedly to contested American identities. U.S. imperial expansion in this time complicated American belonging, as new territories in the Caribbean and Pacific produced new notions of race and citizenship. All editors in this study were acutely aware of these shifting grounds and their stakes, even as they were pulled in conflicting directions by their presses. Ford’s struggle to calibrate Irish nationalism, Catholicism, and labor rights within the columns of the Irish World; Yorke’s clash with big business and his own Catholic hierarchy while at the helm of the Monitor and the Leader; Stemons’s Philadelphia struggle to found a newspaper and address the “Negro Problem”; and T. Thomas Fortune’s investigative journey to Hawaii and the Philippines in 1902-03 help tease out newspapers’ role in the creation of racial, ethnic, and national identities in the long nineteenth century.

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