The summer of 2020 ignited a wave of nationwide protests and renewed calls for racial justice across the U.S. Now, a new media platform aims to be at the forefront of that push.
The Boston Globe and Boston University Center for Antiracist Research are partnering to launch The Emancipator, a resurrection of an early 19th-century abolitionist newspaper that its contemporary founders hope will reframe the national conversation in an effort to "hasten racial justice."
"This reimagined platform will marry the best of scholarship and journalism to analyze, comment, and seek truth about the racial problems of our time," Ibram X. Kendi, co-founder of The Emancipator and founding director of the Boston University Center for Antiracist Research, said in a press release.
The Emancipator plans to launch online later this year, according to the release, and is currently seeking two co-editors in chief to be based at the Boston Globe and Boston University.
The publication will produce original opinion and ideas journalism, featuring contributions from experts and community voices captured by student journalists. Founders said it will operate out of a hybrid newsroom anchored by the support of its founding institutions, and keep its content free to the public with the help of philanthropic funding.
Its advisory board includes more than a dozen prominent figures in journalism, academia and public policy. Among them are New Yorker writer Jelani Cobb, New York Times Magazine reporter and 1619 Project creator Nikole Hannah-Jones, Los Angeles Times editorial page editor Sewell Chan and Eddie S. Glaude Jr., chair of the Department of African American Studies at Princeton University. It also lists among its founders Monica Wang, a professor at Boston University School of Public Health and the associate director of narrative at the Center for Antiracist Research.
Kimberly Atkins, a Boston Globe senior opinion writer who will serve as The Emancipator's lead columnist and author of Unbound, said the newsletter will "blend conversations on racial justice from The Emancipator's editors, columnists, and contributors with context, news and perspective." She said she believes now is the perfect time for such a venture.
"For the last year we have seen protests and people crying out for racial justice, and a lot of times that focus is on criminal justice reform and not on all the other areas where justice is needed," Atkins said.
Bina Venkataraman, co-founder of The Emancipator and editorial page editor at the Boston Globe, said in a video announcing the launch that the project aims to "resurrect and reimagine" 19th-century anti-slavery publications for the 21st-century fight against racial injustice. It's fitting for such an effort to be based out of Boston, she noted.
"Boston has such a rich and storied tradition with newspapers," Venkataraman said. "Of course the Boston Globe is part of that, but also part of that are the anti-slavery newspapers that were based here in the 19th century and that helped bring about abolition of slavery in the United States."
The platform's namesake is actually a newspaper based not out of Boston but Jonesborough, Tenn. The original Emancipator appeared for several months in 1820, and is described by the Tennessee Encyclopedia as "the first newspaper in the United States solely devoted to the abolition of slavery."
Its annual subscription rate was $1 per year, and it had reached a circulation of more than 2,000 by the time it folded in October 1820. Copies were distributed throughout the South — publisher Elihu Embree mailed copies to the governors of all the southern states — and reached as far as Boston and Philadelphia.
Kendi said that when the first Emancipator was founded, it was likely difficult for people to believe that slavery would be abolished, as occurred some four decades later. Similarly, he said, there are probably many people today who cannot imagine a nation without racism and inequality.
"That call for freedom has continued to echo since the American Revolution," he said. "And I think that call for freedom will continue to echo in The Emancipator."