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Pioneer press. [volume] : (Martinsburg, W. Va.) 1882-19??
Place of publication:
Martinsburg, W. Va.
Geographic coverage:
  • Martinsburg, Berkeley, West Virginia  |  View more titles from this: City County, State
J.R. Clifford
Dates of publication:
  • Began in 1882.
Weekly <Sept. 6, 1890>-
  • English
  • African American newspapers--West Virginia.
  • African American newspapers.--fast--(OCoLC)fst00799278
  • African Americans--West Virginia--Newspapers.
  • African Americans.--fast--(OCoLC)fst00799558
  • Martinsburg (W. Va.)--Newspapers.
  • West Virginia--Martinsburg.--fast--(OCoLC)fst01224867
  • West Virginia.--fast--(OCoLC)fst01205316
  • Archived issues are available in digital format from the Library of Congress Chronicling America online collection.
  • Description based on: Vol. 2, no. 5 (Sept. 1884).
  • Microfilmed by the Library of Congress for the Committee on Negro Studies of the American Council of Learned Societies.
sn 83025146
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Pioneer press. [volume] September 1, 1884 , Image 1


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Pioneer Press

The Pioneer Press styled itself as an "independent weekly newspaper devoted to the moral, religious and financial development of humanity." Published weekly from 1882 to 1917 in Martinsburg, West Virginia, the Press emerged as the first African-American newspaper in the state. The Press enjoyed a wide readership as one of the most circulated African-American newspapers in the country. Four pages in length, issues offered readers an urbane source of news, commentary, and literature.

The Pioneer Press was the product of its founder and editor, John Robert "J.R." Clifford. A free black who had served in the Union army, Clifford graduated from Storer College in Harper's Ferry and passed the West Virginia bar in 1887. Clifford spent his life fighting for racial equality and African-American civil rights, both as a lawyer in the courtroom and via the pages of the Press. Clifford also worked alongside W.E.B. DuBois in founding the Niagara Movement, precursor the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

The Pioneer Press reflected its editor's fight for racial equality within its columns. Articles scorned Southern lynching, the establishment of Jim Crow laws, and segregation. Accordingly, the Press usually supported the Republican Party, although Clifford at times clashed with party leaders who balked at openly supporting racial equality. In 1912, the Press abandoned its usual support of Republican candidates and endorsed independent Bull Moose candidate Theodore Roosevelt for the presidency. When Roosevelt lost to Woodrow Wilson, the Press scathingly bathed Wilson in a partisan and racist light.

Besides political activism, the Press also called upon its readers to improve themselves and achieve a better place in society. Articles focused on self-improvement urged readers to exhibit greater religious piety and learn stable occupational trades and also offered agricultural advice. The Press also used its pages to spotlight upstanding African-American members of the community and to promote businesses and organizations that did not discriminate against blacks.

The Pioneer Press kept its readers abreast of the latest local, national, and international news. Labor struggles, the debate over prohibition of alcohol, state and national elections, American military involvement in Mexico, and World War I all received coverage within the newspaper's pages. Clifford's Pioneer Press proved unafraid to act in opposition to prevailing political winds and took stances against prohibition and American military involvement abroad.

His health failing, J.R. Clifford ceased publication of the Pioneer Press in October 1917, concluding a 35-year run—the longest of any African-American newspaper of the time. Via the Press's pages, Clifford had battled racial discrimination, supported Republican political views, and sought to imbue African-Americans with a sense of identity and strength.

Provided by: West Virginia University