L’Union the South’s First Black Newspaper and New Orleans Tribune, America’s First Black Daily Newspaper

Stop 1 of 9 on The New Orleans Tribune: America’s First Black Daily Newspaper tour

You are standing in front of the L’Union and the New Orleans Tribune building, the birthplace of civil rights history in the Crescent City. Here, surrounded by the howling madness of the Civil War, these two radical journals condemned slavery and fought for the rights of all of African descent. The black community rallied around the Tribune and organized one of the most important freedom movements in American history. The Tribune’s crusade led to black enfranchisement, integrated public schools, the creation of a groundbreaking state constitution with strong equal rights provisions, and the election of many black state representatives.

The New Orleans Tribune (la Tribune de la Nouvelle Orléans) proclaimed itself an “organ of the oppressed” and defiantly vowed to “spare no means at our command” to promote equality for all people of African descent. [1] Bravely challenging the very foundations of white supremacy, the Tribune was in the vanguard of a monumental struggle for racial democracy. 

Both newspapers were founded by Dr. Louis Charles Roudanez, a free man of color. L’Union was unleashed in 1862 soon after Union forces seized the city. The New Orleans Tribune debuted on July 21, 1864. Publishing over 1,300 issues in the five years of its existence, the Tribune concentrated on matters of central importance to all of African descent: suffrage; an equitable labor and land system to replace slavery; the condition of the emancipated; the creation of integrated public transportation and school systems; the black military; Union policies of accommodation with planters; Louisiana’s constitutional conventions; local and national elections; Reconstruction politics and legislation; and much more. 

The Tribune arose from les gens de couleur libres, the community of free people of color who lived in the Vieux Carré and the Faubourgs Tremé and Marigny. Racially mixed, French-speaking, and Catholic, this prosperous, politically astute and assertive group was one of the largest of its kind in the United States. [2] Of African, Caribbean, European and First Nations ancestries, free people of color resulted from unlawful but tolerated inter-racial relationships during the colonial and antebellum periods. Their very existence contradicted the foundational idea of slave society, that racial inferiority was part of the natural order. Moreover, white elites worried that free people of color offered the enslaved hope for their own liberation.

The Tribune was bilingual from the start, two pages in English and two in French. The English-language section was a strategic effort to expand the journal’s message outside of the francophone community of free people of color that had been served by the newspaper’s predecessor, L’Union. That new audience grew to include those who had been enslaved, with whom the Tribune identified. “They are of us, and we love them as we do ourselves. We are the organ of the oppressed, without distinction.” [3]

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527 Conti Street, New Orleans, LA. (Historically 21 Conti Street.)