The Colored American was an influential African-American newspaper published in New York City between 1837 and 1842 by prominent black abolitionists: Charles Bennett Ray, Samuel Eli Cornish, and Philip Alexander Bell. It was launched on January 7, 1837 under the name The Weekly Advocate, but renamed two months later to The Colored American. 1939 Bell left, and Ray became sole owner and editor. When Cornish retired, James McCune Smith joined as co-editor.
Charles Bennett Ray (1807-1886) was a Congregational minister at two predominantly white NYC churches and major player in New York City’s abolitionist movement. He cofounded the Society for the Promotion of Education Among Colored Children, was a member of the American Anti-Slavery Society, the African Society for Mutual Relief, the American Missionary Association, the New York Vigilance Committee and an Underground Railroad conductor.
Samuel Eli Cornish (1795-1858) was a Presbyterian minister, and organized the first black Presbyterian Church in New York City. He was a co-founder of the American Missionary Association, founding member of the American Anti-Slavery Society and the American and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society, executive member of the New York Vigilance Committee, vice president of the American Moral Reform Society, and editor at the first black newspaper in the US, the Freedom’s Journal.
Philip Alexander Bell (1808–1889) was journalist who started his career working for William Lloyd Garrison’s anti-slavery newspaper The Liberator. He migrated to California in 1860, where he founded his own weekly newspaper, The Elevator and became a powerful voice in the fight for civil rights and voting rights, while staying connected with important abolition leaders in the Northeast. He was introduced to the California Newspaper Hall of Fame in 2013.
JamesMcCune Smith (1813-1865) was a born New Yorker but went to Scottland to study medicine. He returned to become the first African American to hold a medical degree and to publish articles in American medical journals, and he established the first black owned pharmacy in the country. McCuneSmith had his own practice, served as physician for the Colored Orphan Asylum, ran an evening school teaching children and authored countless medical and abolitionist articles. McCune Smith was a member of the American Anti-Slavery Society and the Committee of Thirteen, a NYC organization that aided fugitive slaves and connect them to the Underground Railroad.
The Colored American covered abolitionist activity, civil rights issues and its mission was peaceful emancipation of slaves and elevation of free blacks. A major focus was racial uplift through education and self-help. Articles addressed many issues that were a matter of discussion and division in the black community, such as self-help, collaboration with white abolitionists, emigration to Africa and Canada, or what term to use for black Americans.
Even though the Colored American had subscribers throughout the Northeast, it was – like many abolitionist newspapers – in chronic need of money and depended on fundraisers and donations from black churches, white allies, and abolitionist societies. After struggling financially for years, the last issue was published on December 25, 1841.
- The Colored American (archive.org)
- One year of the Colored American, Selections from the year March 1837-March 1838 (nationalhumanitiescenter.org)
- Weekly Advocate and The Colored American (accessible-archives.com)
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