African American Newspapers is a selection of the newspapers in America's Historical Newspapers. This tutorial will help you search and download articles and other items in this collection.

Searching by dates

The default tab for this database is the Dates and Eras tab. The first nine eras of American history (as defined by the newspapers that were published, so starting in 1690, through to 1822) are faded in this display. That's because there were no African American-published newspapers before that time.*

If you don't choose any specific eras, the database will search all of them. You can also choose more specific dates in the Custom Date Range. You can be as specific or vague as you like. The examples below the search box show you how flexible the date ranges are.

*FUN FACT: The first American newspaper by an African American was Freedom's Journal, published in New York City in 1827. This database has the full run of the paper.

Article types

Move on to the second tab, Article Types.

ALERT! Before we move on, an important message!
If you don't want to keep the results limited to the date range you established on the previous screen, you must hit the "clear all" button before starting your search and then reselect African American Newspapers after you hit "search".

If you want to narrow your search to advertisements, shipping news, or some other type of information, you can narrow your results to any of these categories. Keep in mind, though, that you may inadvertently exclude useful results by making your search too narrow!

*We'll skip the languages tab since nearly all the newspapers in this database are in English.*

Searching by location

If you are looking for newspaper articles from a particular region, you can sort results by location. Click on the Places of Publication tab. Regions are shaded differently, but you actually have to select states individually.

Try selecting all the "West North Central" states (note that the color in the legend doesn't match perfectly: the states to select are ND, SD, NE, KS, MN, IA, MO). The easiest way to do this is to just click on each of the states on the map. It should look like this:

Map of the united states with regions shaded

Now go back up to the search box and type in any search term. Hit enter or click the search button. Now narrow to African American newspapers again at the top. The resulting list will only include articles from newspapers published in the highlighted states.

Searching for specific titles

Turn to the last tab, Newspaper Titles.

There are several ways to browse the list of titles. Sort alpha-numerically by any of the headers by clicking on one. For example, I sorted by publication date to find the earliest newspapers in the database.

The default sort is by state of publication. Let's try sorting by something else. But first, reselect the African American newspapers database.

Sort the titles by the Issues header. What publication has the most issues in this database?

HINT: you will have to hit the Issues header twice to sort largest to smallest number of issues.

Try sorting by all the different headers. This is a great way to see how many publications there are for any specific region or time period.

Reading the newspapers

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This is why you came here today, right?

Search for "Harriet Tubman" in quotation marks and select the African American Newspapers database. In the results, choose the article called, "The Afro-American Woman."

You should see a page like this:
Screen shot of an article from newspaper

What you're looking at is a clipped view of a newspaper page; it only shows you the exact article you chose. On the left-hand navigation bar, you can choose other articles from the same issue.

Reading the newspapers

2 of 4Because this article starts far down the page in the left column, you need to scroll down to read the beginning of the article. You can do this either by grabbing and dragging the page, or clicking on the tiny arrows on the edges of the text box.

Tiny arrows

Reading the newspapers

3 of 4You can zoom and move the text around, but for ease of reading and to save multiple documents, you can save as a PDF by clicking the icon in the upper right-hand corner (try it!):

Full text article with arrow pointing to PDF save button

Reading the newspapers

4 of 4Or you can download the entire issue by clicking the "Download Issue" link on the upper left corner of the document (go ahead and do it!):

Red arrow pointing to the button to download whole issue


Tips for better searching

1 of 3When searching primary documents like old newspapers, "basic search" can be a misleading term. Modern terminology may not yield strong search results, and spelling variations can make a big difference in what comes back to you. 

Try searching for the phrase "African American." (Don't forget to clear previous filters and reselect the African American Newspapers section.)

Putting quotation marks around a phrase tells the database to search the phrase instead of the individual words.

Tips for better searching

2 of 3Notice that the default presentation of the results list is chronological (oldest to newest).

How many results are there that were published before 1881 (these should be at the very top)?

Tips for better searching

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Now try searching instead for the term "free blacks". Don't forget to use quotation marks to search this as a phrase.

How many results did you get?

You should have a lot more results from that pre-1870s period using this related term. Sometimes you have to play around with your terms to fit the time period in which the documents were created!

Broaden your horizons!

So far you've narrowed your search to the African American Newspapers database, but if you want to see what was being written about in other newspapers of the time, keep the search open to the entire database by selecting "All of America's Historical Newspapers" instead.

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End of Tutorial