An Idea that Took Off and Soared

View of 132 West 65th Street from North.  Courtesy NYC Municipal Archive.

An Idea that Took off and Soared

by Claudie Benjamin

Consider how a sampling of early clippings reflects social commentary that later characterized The Amsterdam News.

On December 22, 1926, just two decades after its founding, the Amsterdam News ran a NNPA/Black Press of America story entitled “US Army Plans Big Lily-White N.Y. C. Parade” [1] that focused on the exclusion of Black military personnel.

Three decades later, in 1958, the paper published an announcement of the surprise marriage of Malcolm X and Betty Shabazz in Detroit. [2] Long before this Nation of Islam leader rose to great prominence for articulating concepts of race pride and Black Nationalism, the paper took the occasion to comment favorably on his advocacy. (Later, of course, came Malcom X’s assassination and the emergence of Shabazz as a civil rights leader. The coverage is also noteworthy because it concerns an event related to, but not located in NYC. [3]

What’s remarkable is that from a modest beginning as a six-page weekly created in the basement of his home at 132 West 65th Street and sold for 2 cents, James H. Anderson launched one of the most important national political voices and rallying places for Black America. Eventually, The Amsterdam News became one of the four largest Black newspapers in the United States, [4] “The first issue had late news, display ads, two pictures, a biography of Anderson, two columns of news clips from other Black papers and a full editorial column urging the public to support the new paper. It became one of 50 Black newspapers in the country…” [5]

“Founder Anderson, “‘born shortly after the Civil War, ran away from his farm home in South Carolina at age 12…'” 

The new paper built its community as it served it. [6] Local coverage was directed at reporting a full range of African-American life in what was to provide an alternative to the way mainstream media covered Blacks. The need to counter racial stereotyping in the media continues to this day. [7] Over time, The Amsterdam News broadened news coverage, editorial commentary and national and international news of particular interest to the Black community.

Founder Anderson, “born shortly after the Civil War, ran away from his farm home in South Carolina at age 12. After working at a variety of jobs including bell hopping and a stint in the Navy, at the age of 24, Anderson settled in New York and decided to try his hand at publishing a newspaper for the Black community.” [8] 

Anderson was known to be a member of the St. Cyprian’s Church congregation, the Elks and other social groups.  Operating on a shoestring budget, he was dependent on the generosity and support of others. In 1945 John H. Johnson, Director of St. Martin’s in Harlem reminisced about his father, an Episcopal Society priest and a missionary, and his connection with The Amsterdam News. Johnson wrote that the Church addressed the needs of “the thousands of Negroes then migrating from all parts of the South and the West Indies.” [9]  His father, Johnson wrote, was Involved in the support of the development of St. Cyprian’s Church.  “St. Cyprians was one of the early missionary efforts of the Church among the colored people in this city, and from it sprang many important movements.  The Amsterdam News, now one of the most successful of colored news [papers] was started by a member of St. Cyprian’s.  It was a risky venture and had a hard time getting underway.  The members of St. Cyprian’s and its vicar helped immensely.” [10]

James Anderson, working

Image Courtesy The Broad Ax, Salt Lake City, UT, ca. 12 April, 1913.

“Within a year of its first publication the newspaper’s rapidly growing popularity, as well as broader demographic shifts” [11] in New York’s Black community, prompted Anderson to relocate the paper’s operations to 17 West 135th Street in Harlem—a number of moves followed. Anderson sold the paper in 1926 and a succession of owners followed.

“Over the course of roughly two decades, a network of black realtors, black churches, and black tenants took advantage of market conditions and intra-racial tensions among white homeowners and renters to claim residential space in Harlem. This campaign for housing, waged from San Juan Hill and Harlem, was the first grassroots battle in Harlem. As blacks settled into Harlem, they began building secular and spiritual institutions to satisfy the needs of the burgeoning community.” [12] Among these was the Amsterdam News

Proud of its heritage as it continues to cover today’s news, the Amsterdam News website notes: “The Amsterdam News was one of the first publications to focus its attention on Malcolm X and began publishing his column, “God’s Angry Man.” Among the host of the most prominent and influential Black leaders in the nation who have appeared in the Amsterdam News include scholar W.E.B. DuBois, activist Roy Wilkins, Rep. Adam Clayton Powell, NAACP President Ben Jealous and Rep. Charles Rangel. [13]

“The Amsterdam News was one of the first publications to focus its attention on Malcolm X…”







[6] IBID




[10] IBID




Claudie Benjamin is journalist who writes for LANDMARK WEST!

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