US Students collection of essays on Black-owned media 

These collection of essays by US students explores issues within media with solutions.

The following essays were produced by students in professor James Rada’s classes as part of their degree requirements for the graduate program in Media Management at Virginia State University.  

The students researched and reported on the past, present, and future of Black-owned media in the United States and the Black Lives Matter Movement relative to The Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.  


History of Black Owned Media  

By Chrissy Cozart (West Orange, NJ)  

The origins of Black-owned media can be traced to a longstanding struggle for representation and the quest for a platform to express the stories and viewpoints of the Black community, both in the United States and beyond. This battle dates to the 1800s and persists even in current times.   

According to  Encyclopædia Britannica, Freedom’s Journal is the first known Black-owned newspaper. It was established by John Russwurm and Samuel Cornish  on March 16, 1927, and closed on March 28, 1829. It was published in New York and aimed to counter negative portrayals of African Americans and advocate for the abolition of slavery. The Freedom’s Journal began the abolitionist movement and was credited with inspiring formerly enslaved Frederick Douglass to develop his well-known newspaper, the North Star in Rochester, New York, published by William Cooper Neil on December 3, 1847.  

The North Star newspaper was a prominent abolitionist addressing racial injustice and civil rights issues. These two well-known newspapers paved the way for future black-owned newspapers, magazines, and novels, opening new opportunities for black writers and publishers.   

Essence magazine, developed by the Essence Communications Inc. company in 1970, is a well-known publication that has been a significant voice in the African-American community for many years. The magazine covers many topics that appeal to black women, including beauty, fashion, health, and culture.  

EBONY magazine by John H. Johnson was developed in 1945 and has a long history of covering a wide range of topics relevant to the Black community, including lifestyle, culture, and social justice.  

Ebony and Essence are two critical cultural touchstones crucial in informing, inspiring, and empowering generations of Black Americans. In addition, they have been instrumental in creating a more inclusive and diverse media landscape by breaking down stereotypes and biases. Although the media landscape has evolved with the rise of digital platforms, these magazines still hold a special place in the hearts of the Black community and continue to have a lasting impact.  

Early film companies also broke down barriers by featuring realistic portrayals of African Americans in lead roles in response to the lack of representation or negative stereotyping by larger white-owned film companies.  

In 1910, the Foster Photoplay Company was established in Chicago, Illinois, by William D. Foster, becoming the first Black-owned film company in the United States. The company had the distinction of having an all-black cast and crew. However, some sources argue that The Lincoln Motion Picture Company, founded by Noble and George Johnson in 1916, was the first black-owned film company. It was dissolved in 1923.  

The most successful black-owned film company to date is Micheaux Film Corporation, founded by Oscar Micheaux in 1918 and lasting until 1940. The corporation produced over 44 high-quality films.  

These companies paved the way for future black-owned television or film production companies, including Black Entertainment Television “BET” by Robert L. Johnson and Sheila Johnson. BET was established on January 25, 1980, in Washington, D.C., to achieve an African American audience through cable television. The first black-owned and operated radio station, WERD Radio, was founded by Jesse B. Blayton on October 3, 1949, in Atlanta, Georgia, at 860AM. The station played a significant role in the Black community by addressing the unique needs and interests of African Americans.  

It was particularly significant for broadcasting Martin Luther King Jr’s Sunday sermons and announcing civil rights marches. The station’s history reflects the vital role that Black-owned media outlets played in empowering African Americans and advocating for civil rights and social justice during a challenging period in U.S. history.  

Urban One by Cathy Hughes is the largest black-owned media company in the United States. The company was founded as Radio One in 1980 in Silver Spring, Maryland. Cathy Hughes’ vision when creating the company was to represent Black America, and she successfully expanded to several networks such as TV One, Reach Media, One Digital, One Solution, and CLEO TV.   

Urban One operates numerous radio stations targeting African-American and urban audiences, including well-known stations such as WOL-AM, WMMJ-FM, and WKYS-FM, serving the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area. TV One is a cable and satellite television network that offers entertainment, news, and lifestyle programming targeted towards African-American viewers.   

As part of Urban One’s media portfolio, TV One is a prominent entity. In addition to TV One, the digital media company iOne Digital operates various websites, including NewsOne, Hello Beautiful, and Global Grind, covering news, entertainment, lifestyle, and culture. Urban One also hosts events and concerts to engage and entertain communities, focusing on African Americans. The company owes its growth and prominence in the media industry to the visionary leadership and entrepreneurial skills of its founder, Cathy Hughes. She has played an instrumental role in the company’s success, driven by her commitment to serving underserved communities and providing a platform for African-American voices.  

What is Black Owned Media?   

By Christopher Hill (Charlotte, NC)  

Black-owned media is classified as a company that is at least 51% owned, controlled, and operated by one or more African Americans. , A 2023 NPR report “The Future of Black Owned Media” stated that “while it may seem like Black-focused media is at a high these days, the reality is only 4% of all media in the U.S. is Black-owned”.  This is a low percentage compared to the growth of viewership that is being displayed throughout the country. It’s also a low percentage when compared to the racial diversity of the population.  

The Federal Communications Commission’s sixth report on the ownsership of broadcast stations, released in January 2023, found that white persons own a majority ownership interest in 73% of commercial broadcast stations, while persons belonging to racial minority groups held a majority ownership interest in 4% of commercial broadcast stations. To compare those numbers to race: 61% of the U.S. population identifies as White, about 12% as Black or African American, and about 6% as Asian.   

The most notable Black-owned media companies include Revolt, Essence,, Group Black, B Code, and Black Enterprise. Recognizing that the media landscape is complex and constantly evolving is essential. While there are challenges, Black-owned media contributes to journalism, storytelling, and cultural representation. The ongoing push for diversity and inclusion in media and increased community support can potentially create a more equitable and vibrant media ecosystem.   


Historically, Black-owned media outlets have faced significant challenges regarding ownership disparities. Many media companies, including newspapers, television stations, and digital platforms, are not Black owned. Black-owned media companies experience racism from customers, with one report finding that Black-owned businesses have had an instance of racism every year.   

Forbes, in an article ‘Black Small Businesses Still Face Major Challenges,’ quoted an Intuit QuickBook insights report that found 79% of Black business owners say they have experienced racism from a customer—with 48% reporting they had a racist customer interaction at least once in the past year. The Colombus Dispatch article “Black women’s stories of racism faced in Corporate America,” provides specific examples of racism experienced by Florence Latham, a prominent black leader. “Lathan had accepted things like this in the past. She accepted being called the N-word as a child. She accepted being told by colleagues that she was only given promotions because she is Black or being passed over for promotions for white people who had far less experience or qualifications.”   

The constant stereotype from non-black customers creates a disadvantage in growth for the company, and because they are a Black-owned business, it has also created financial hardships. In 2021, Black-owned media struggled to create financial stability because they battled to secure advertising revenue and funding, making it difficult for them to remain financially sustainable. However, because of this, diverse communities formed a call for action and advocated for brands to invest and fund advertising dollars with various media companies. The investments and funding provided allowed for these diverse-owned media groups to transform business opportunities and bring brand partnerships to their audiencesg. For example, with the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, a group was formed called Group Black.   

The article “Winning for the long–term investment: Investing in diverse-owned media” states, “a collective and business accelerator for Black-owned media, launched to deepen the pipeline of Black-owned media companies, supported by a $75 million ad-spend target from ad agency WPP.”A 2022 Nielsen report called “Diverse–owned media” that researched what growth strategies will benefit the diverse media groups the most, stated that “In 2021, for example, 20 of the top advertisers pledged 2%-5 % of their ad spend to Black-owned media.”   

These articles and reports indicate that diverse-owned media has been able to generate nationwide visibility for advertisers and agencies. Black-owned media is in an even better position today than in 2021. Investments developed significant growth in 2022 and were still growing throughout 2023. There is still work to be done in these specific areas, but the effort being put into these diverse-media groups is already seeing a positive transformation.   

Opportunities for Growth  

Since 2022, Black-owned media has continued to see a positive trend in the growth of the resources available for Black-owned media outlets. The growth opportunities through social media and digital platforms have enabled Black-owned media outlets to reach wider audiences, share content, and engage with communities directly. It has created opportunities for Black-owned media companies to produce unique and culturally relevant stories to meet the demand for diversity and inclusion. It has led to Black-owned media outlets having strong connections to their communities and playing a vital role in community organizing, advocacy, and awareness.  

For example, television shows that were staples to Black communities in the 1990’s such as Martin, Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, the Jamie Fox show, and The Wayan Bros, played an enormous part in the style of clothes that were worn, the music that was played, and the music references that influence the culture on these shows.  

These shows were used to promote equality and raise awareness of unfair treatment in the Black community. Since 2021, Black consumers have been leading the demand for content that coexists with their everyday lives and identities. The term “Buying Black” has been an increasing focus for media outlets worldwide. The awful incidents such as the murders of George Floyd, Aubrey Black, and countless others has generated awareness from brands and advertisers who identified Black-owned media as being a missing element to advocate for Black families and to reach them.  

Further extensive research conducted by Nielsen states, “Research shows that Black audiences demand content where their identity is represented on screen. Moreover, Black-owned media is important in providing representative content to the diverse Black community. Black-owned networks are more than two-and-half-times more likely to attract Black audiences. But even with a 27% reach among Black viewers.”The true meaning of these statistics indicates that if there was more emphasis placed on helping Black-owned networks it would help them be able to properly build their company networks and appeal to their communities. These statistics do not only apply to television and social media viewers.   

They apply to radio listeners as well. Black- owned media connects with Black listeners daily; its total reach percentage is 23. The buying power African Americans are generating is increasing daily, and it benefits diverse media groups because more financial opportunities are available to these media outlets. According to the Nielsen report “Black consumers are taking control of their economic and media influence and using it to invest in Black experiences, communities, and content. The Black community collectively represented $1.6 trillion (about $4,900 per person in the US) of buying power last year. Paired with a unique ability to influence and drive culture at home and abroad, Black viewers remain a distinctly valuable class of U.S. audiences—and Black-owned media knows how to reach them.“ .   

The African American community is at the forefront of the media movement, and it is time for African American media companies to capitalize on the opportunities provided. The larger media companies have been taking advantage of these opportunities for too long and not sharing the wealth. Black-owned companies are not even given a fair chance to succeed. Ironically, their culture is leading the charge, and if given equal opportunity to capitalize, they can revolutionize the media landscape.   

Turning point for Black representation in the media  

By Boogie Robinson (Atlanta, GA)  

The significance of Black media started on March 16, 1827 in New York City, when a group of free Black men founded Freedom’s Journal. It became the first newspaper owned by and led by Black Americans in the United States. This became the turning point for the Black community, it set the tone for the role Black media still plays in our communities and Black society at large.   

Over two centuries later, Black media continues to create a space where the African Americans can speak for ourselves about issues of importance and news that concern us. The Black media has created many opportunities for the community.   

Examples of impactful Black media that have had a significance within the community are networks like BET and VH1, people like Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry, Essence and Jet magazines, and Blacktivity.  . Each day we see more and more media being created within the Black community to support one another as a whole.   

One of the times Black media has impacted the community is when Jet magazine covered the brutal murder of a young African American boy by the name of Emmet Till. Emmet Till, from Chicago, was 14 years old when he visited family in Mississippi in August 1955.   

With a group of friends and cousins he went into a store and was later accused of whistling at the white female storekeeper Carolyn Bryant. Four days later Bryant’s husband and brother kidnapped Till. He was tortured, beaten, and shot, and his lifeless body was then thrown into the Tallahatchie River with a metal fan tied around his neck.   

Till’s mother Mamie received the devastating phone call and was asked to identify his body. Mamie told the funeral director “Let the people see what I’ve seen”. Emmet’s body was so badly mutilated it was beyond recognition. Till’s funeral brought tens of thousand from the African American community together in a fight for justice including the NAACP.   

The first photographs of Till’s body were published in Jet magazine by photographer David Jackson. This was a turning point for Black media as it exposed the world to the sheer violence and brutality of racism in America.   

To this day, because of Jackson, the image of Emmet Till’s body has a significant role in the history of Black media coverage. Over 60 years later,Black media has continued to advocate for justice within the Black community. It continues to give the community an opportunity to give recognition of everyone’s humanity and dignity that may have been stripped from them.  

The media’s role in the Civil Rights Movement  

By Aliya Todd (Richmond, VA)  

The Civil Rights Movement’s key media was television and magazines. Television broadcast was used to show the March on Washington and Bloody Sunday, an event that galvanized American audiences. Ebony magazine declared in June 1950 that television would be the tool and ally to promote positive images of Black people and to end Jim Crow. NBC showed images of Black people as well.   

Magazines were used to show the images of historic events and tragedies, including what most consider to be the jumping point of the movement. After being lynched, Emmett Till was given an open casket funeral because his mother wanted the world to see what had been done to her son. Jet magazine published the photos. Bloody Sunday was also covered in newspapers like the New York Times and Washington Post.   

Media influenced collective memory of these moments. Images helped change the view of Black people and the moral value people gave to these events and actions. Images were also used to dignify Black people and thus the Civil Rights Movement has been remembered for using images of Black people in their “Sunday’s best” to stray away from the Black savage image the media had been spreading through film and television.   

Social media has also played a major role in highlighting issues and injustices and promoting activism.  

Black Lives Matter (BLM) started on Facebook, one of the world’s largest online social networks at the time. as a response to the 2013 George Zimmerman trial verdict. George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, was found not guilty of the charges of second-degree murder or manslaughter in the death of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed Black 17-year-old in Florida. Social media allowed the public to interact with the leaders of the movement as well as access the messages the movement presented mostly through Tweets and Facebook posts. Social media gave new activists a chance to mobilize and create opportunities to participate.  It shared ideologies that brought people together rather than sharing propaganda or one central message.   

Social media gave users a space to argue and debate over the purpose of the movement. It also allowed users to shape social identities making engagement with the movement more personal rather than collective. Media spread rhetoric that could further the social movement’s aims and convince them of the importance of collective action. BLM started as a hashtag that then became a movement so social media was influential in its creation.   

Covid 19 and the effort to stay connected during the pandemic contributed to social media’s importance in people’s day-to-day lives. Through social media, the visuals, or images, of perceived injustices are spread. This has caused negative as well as positive outcomes, including polarized viewpoints and responses, which cannot always be fact checked, to spread quickly Social media was a tool to organize protests. .   It  can also be used to help track protests, who organized them, and even participation in them. The downside of social media and these public posts is that they can lead to harm to organizers and participants.   

Black Lives Matter as a movement has taken place mostly on social media. The protests happened both virtually and on the streets. As well as street marches,   online activities included awareness raising, virtual walk outs and even Zoom rallies. This means it is more difficult to gauge the impact of BLM. With the Civil Rights Movement, there were clear cut events and even end dates, with facts and information recorded by fewer sources. However, with BLM, there are multiple online events and large volumes of information to collect and analyse.  

Another difference between the Civil Rights and Black Lives Matter movements is that only one is considered historical. The Black Lives Matter movement is just 10 years old. To be considered historical, something has to be around 50 years old. So even though Black Lives Matter has had monumental events, it is not yet considered historical. That also means experts on the timeline of the movement are still deciding what to put in the history books and determine which events matter, what talking points should be considered, and what the main pillars of the movement have been. Another difference lies in how the movements are represented or remembered.   

The faces of the Civil Rights Movement were the thought leaders. The faces of Black Lives Matter have been those of the lost, like Trayvon Martin and George Floyd.