Black Quotidian: Everyday History in African-American Newspapers

January 21, 1911

On January 21, 1911, the Chicago Defender offered readers an enticing offer. For $1.75 ($46 in 2016) readers could receive a one-year subscription to the Defender and a copy of a 430-page book, The Life and Work of Paul Laurence Dunbar (click to view PDF). The Defender was founded in 1905, and by 1911 it was the nation’s largest black newspaper in terms of circulation. The postscript in the advertisement points to the Defender’s aggressive marketing tactics: “A few live solicitors wanted, big money for hustlers, apply at 3159 State St. Fine Present for X-Mas. A nice chance for high school and 8th grade boys and girls to make their X-Mas money as agents for this book and paper.” On the network of “standing dealers,” newsboys, and Pullman porters who helped the Defender reach readers across the country, see this visualization and essay from the Black Press Research Collection. Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872–1906) became one of the first African-American poets to receive national attention, and his work was published and reviewed in several African-American newspapers as well at the New York Times and Harper’s Weekly. This advertisement, and the use of poetry to market a newspaper, highlights the cross-pollination of African-American cultural productions.  

On the history of the Chicago Defender, see Ethan Michaeli’s The Defender: How the Legendary Black Newspaper Changed America (2016),  James Grossman's Land of Hope: Chicago, Black Southerners, and the Great Migration (1989), and Adam Green’s Selling the Race: Culture, Community, and Black Chicago, 1940–1955 (2006).

You can view the The Life and Work of Paul Laurence Dunbar (1907) here and below:

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