The Plaindealer broke ground not only as Detroit’s first black newspaper but as one of the first of its kind in the country.
In its pages a reader could find a wealth of information: coverage of national and local events; an account of the rise of the Afro-American League, a predecessor to the NAACP; event listings for fraternal groups like the Knights of Pythias; gossip and opinion; works of poetry and literature; and columns targeted to women and churchgoers.
The publishers had a regular correspondence with other black-owned papers of the day and often reprinted articles from sister publications. All four men had prior newspaper experience, either through participation in white-owned media outlets or with Benjamin Pelham’s earlier amateur publication, the Venture.
The Plaindealer carefully covered social issues, providing sympathetic coverage to progressive elements in the emerging labor movement and documenting the abuses of Jim Crow in the South and in its less overt local guises.
Plaindealer staff considered civil rights as an especially urgent issue, inseparable from all the other issues covered in its pages.
“It served most the growing middle class and the aspirations of the working class to gain access to education and better jobs — goals that were dependent on erasing discrimination and second-class status,” he said.
The Plaindealer ceased operation in 1894.
The MSU Community has access to 160 issues dating from September 20, 1889 through May 19, 1893 via African American Newspapers, 1827 – 1998 (Readex).
For more information, see David Sand, “Detroit’s ‘Plaindealer’ Blazed A Trail For Today’s African-American Press”, Huffington Post, February 24, 2012.
Irvine Garland Penn, “The Afro-American Press and Its Editors, 1891.
Benjamin Pelham article from the Black Past.
The Library of Michigan has issues of the Detroit Plaindealer available on microfilm.