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Muhammad Speaks, Africa news and the Black Press

By Jehron Muhammad | Last updated: Feb 5, 2019 - 10:58:24 AM

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According to Temple University journalism professor Linn Washington, news about Africa in Black publications continues to be far and in between. In fact much of their African coverage, like mainstream media coverage, is from news services like AP and Reuters.

But all is not lost. During the recent National Newspaper’s (NNPA) Mid-Winter conference and highlighting global expansion of the Black press, Dr. Arikana Chihombori-Quao, African Union Ambassador to the United States, spoke of the importance of a global expansion of the Black Press, particularly to Africa and the Caribbean.


Concerning the history of African coverage, former Muhammad Speaks editor Askia Muhammad, who was the last Muhammad Speaks editor, said Black publications historically lagged behind in their coverage of Africa. In fact, for a time, Muhammad Speaks, which was published by the Hon. Elijah Muhammad and the Nation of Islam, was the only national weekly that covered Africa. 

That is what helped lure Ebony magazine contributor John Woodford from Johnson Publishing to join the staff of Muhammad Speaks, eventually becoming its editor. He wrote in 1991 in Voices of the African Diaspora, “What cinched my decision to seek a job with Muhammad Speaks, despite most of my family’s and friends advice that a job there would be a fool-hardy step ‘career-wise,’ was the hard fact that it was presenting more stories about issues and events that concerned African-Americans and Africans than any other publication, and that it was doing so in a more forthright way than any other highly circulated publication in the country Black or White.”

An example appeared in the 2009 Black Routes To Islam publication, edited by Columbia University professor Manning Marable and Hishaam D. Aidi. The publication revealed that the Muhammad Speaks United Nation’s correspondent, Charles P. Howard III, “played an important role in raising awareness about the connections between situations of African Americans and that of oppressed people (including Africans) throughout the world through his informative articles in Muhammad Speaks.”

For one such article, Howard, who also was an attorney, met and interviewed Algerian prime minister Ahmed Ben Bella. The article was a Muhammad Speaks cover story and accompanying a photo of Mr. Ben Bella was the headline “Drive On To Free All Of Africa.”   

Woodford, who later became editor of the University of Michigan owned Michigan Today Magazine, and took a position with the university’s development office, said his “very exciting and rewarding four years with Muhammad Speaks” included sending “reporters to Cuba, the Soviet Union, Puerto Rico, to Africa to tell of the freedom struggles of South Africans, Mozambicans, Zimbabweans, and Angolans … any damn place we wanted to go, even North Vietnam and North Korea and any other place our government said Americans were not permitted to go.”

Backed by the paper’s publisher, Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad, Woodford recounted Mr. Muhammad’s inspiring words to him when he was first hired.

“All we want you to do is tell the truth and bring freedom, justice and equality to the Black man and woman of America. The devil has built his empire on lies, and we can destroy it with the truth,” Mr. Muhammad said, according to Woodford.

Askia Muhammad said what made Muhammad Speaks the top “newspaper at that time” is that readers saw it was a source where “any information that was available anywhere about Africa, it would be in Muhammad Speaks newspaper.”

Muhammad, who is a senior editor for The Final Call Newspaper, a radio show host and political  commentator, said Muhammad Speaks showed links to liberation struggles “that were going on all over the continent of Africa, and the world.” And he emphasized, “And there was no filter on them.” Reporters “had access” so the newspaper became a “forum among activists, radicals, and intellectuals to keep (up) with what was going on at the time.”

At the Black newspaper publishers gathering, AU ambassador Chihombori-Quao said the Black Press should not only seek to become outlets for African news stories, but publish original content, local stories written in Africa by local journalists. 

“African leaders are saying with one voice, one mind, and one heart that we are one continent,”Ambassador Chihombori-Quao was quoted as saying.

Her words can only be realized if that voice is being transmitted to Africa’s 1.2 billion inhabitants and Africans in the Diaspora.

Currently Africa suffers from a brain drain, African professionals going abroad to work. A proposed continent-wide free trade area would possibly be the world’s largest. Black media could be essential—not only to get the word out—but to convince, through open and frank discussions with the African Diaspora the benefits of Africa becoming the world’s largest free trade area.   

It’s not in the best interest of the Western corporate-owned press to champion Africa. Their history has been to paint Africa as “a dark continent” where wars, corruption and famine is the norm, without ever revealing their hands at the root of Africa’s ills. 

An example of an African news organization sharing content has been’s pioneering approach of publishing articles from over 130 African media outlets.

“Skilled editors need to be able to sort the good journalism from the empty rhetoric, which can appear side by side in the same newspaper. Sometimes stories aimed at domestic audiences do not translate that well when taken across borders, purely because knowledge of context and background is assumed; this too needs careful editing for a wider African audience,” according to a piece published in The Guardian titled “African journalism is being stifled by a lack of resources.”

Muhammad Speaks became a global phenomenon because it was able every week to show firsthand links between the world’s liberation struggles. It became so popular, with over one million readers weekly, that world leaders like Ghana’s president, Kwame Nkrumah and Nigerian president, Knamdi Asikiwe, became frequent contributors to Muhammad Speaks. 

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