For the 97th episode of the Journalism History podcast, hosted by Ken Ward, Sheryl Kennedy Haydel explains how the journalists of the student-run Bennett Banner used their paper to rally their peers at Bennett College, a historically Black college for women, from the 1930s through the ’50s.
Sheryl Kennedy Haydel is director of the School of Media and Design at Loyola University New Orleans. She is the author of “For Country, Culture, and Respect: The Bennett Banner’s Use of Journalism to Promote Equality from a Black Feminist Perspective” in the December 2021 issue of Journalism History.
Sheryl Kennedy Haydel: There was still an understanding of the legacy and the heritage in their community, and they knew they were a part of that legacy and that their work was, was intimately connected to the same spirit and hopefulness of the Black press.
Ken Ward: Welcome to Journalism History, a podcast that rips out the pages of your history books to reexamine the stories you thought you knew and the ones you were never told.
Teri Finneman: I’m Teri Finneman, and I research media coverage of women in politics.
Nick Hirshon: And I’m Nick Hirshon, and I research the history of New York sports.
Ken Ward: And I’m Ken Ward, and I research the journalism history of the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains, and together we’re professional media historians guiding you through our own drafts of history. Transcripts of the show are available online at journalism-history.org/podcast. This episode is sponsored by the College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia. For more than a century –
the college has educated students to relentlessly pursue the art, science, and integrity of stories. They are committed to following First Amendment principles in a digital first environment as they prepare democracy’s next generation.
Journalism is a tough profession. I know I’m preaching to the choir here, but journalists are constantly having to navigate the boundaries of professional objectivity, personal passion, and positionality. Media historians have noted this is especially true for journalists in the Black press, who must simultaneously navigate professional norms while also reporting on the world from their unique social and cultural perspectives. How does that play out, one wonders, for student journalists in the Black press? And to take it one step further, what about for Black student journalists at a women’s college?
Well, that’s precisely the position explored in recent research by Dr. Sheryl Kennedy Haydel, who is director and associate professor of Loyola University New Orleans’ School of Communication and Design. In this episode, Haydel explains how journalists at the Bennett Banner used their paper to rally their –
peers at Bennett College, a historically Black college for women, in the 1930s, ’40s, and ’50s. Sheryl, welcome to the show. So I’m hoping you could begin by helping us kinda situate this newspaper, the Bennett Banner, in kinda space and time. Where was it made, by whom and for whom? Like what was the purpose of this newspaper?
Sheryl Kennedy Haydel: Absolutely. Thanks so much for having me. I’m excited to talk about the Bennett Banner. So Bennett College for Women is in Greensboro, North Carolina. We’re looking at the early 1930, 1931. The student body is all Black female women who come from various backgrounds, so whether it be the South, whether it be up north, Midwest, West Coast. So there’s a lot of diversity in geography there, as well as socioeconomic background. Well, right about –
in 1931, there was a decision made on campus from what I was able to learn that it was time to have a newspaper, a way that the students could not only communicate about relevant issues of the day, but also a place where they can be trained, learn how to put their writing skills and their critical thinking into good use. So the Bennett Banner was born for an outlet of student expression. So that’s how everything got started. It is a — is a great read because they talk about everything from fun things on campus to very serious, hard-hitting issues, which fascinated me when I came across this publication, that traditionally sometimes all female or same gender schools, but especially for women, may have been stereotyped as being a place where it was just for, you know, getting ready to get married and have a family, but this newspaper proved that –
notion to be quite different.
Ken Ward: Well, and so your paper looks at 30 years of journalism at the Banner, so give us a sense of how did this paper change over, over those 30 years. That’s quite a while.
Sheryl Kennedy Haydel: Yes, absolutely. It started from the very first issue that I was able to comb through. They started off having a very strong voice, started off being a space for women celebrating womanhood, and although — all diverse facets of it, so meaning they talked about race, politics, and community building. I noticed those themes reoccurring again and again over the course of the 30-year study. So, again, they, they started off with having a voice that mattered around current issues, but they also had a sense of humor and they knew how to, I don’t know, laugh when it was appropriate. But I will say overall throughout the 30 years of the study, they were extremely –
intentional with their words. They understood the moment is another way I would categorize it, meaning that they knew it would, their community would be better served if they took this opportunity to communicate with them seriously. Thirdly, they always embraced the tenets of journalism, meaning they had editorial or opinion pieces, of course, but they also had source stories — meaning that they would do the traditional quoting, direct quotes, have a traditional lead and but they also had some stories where it was just really first-person accounts of life as they knew it on their campus.
Ken Ward: Well, and, and I’m glad that you sort of brought up that sort of, you know, the, the type of journalism that they were emulating and, and, and enacting at the paper, and in your, in your paper you turn repeatedly to this idea that the student journalists at the Banner were emulating the professional Black press –
and sort of setting that apart from the mainstream press. And so I was hoping you could help us, especially some who, who may be not as familiar with the Black press, understand what distinguishes the Black press from the mainstream press in this era, and how did the students at the Banner, you know, both emulate and deviate from that model?
Sheryl Kennedy Haydel: Yes. So the Black press, of course, the origination, the genesis was to cover news about Black, the Black community, but also cover news from a Black lens or Black perspective to also educate. It was a communal space, meaning that the Black press was all about, hey, we’re gonna talk about our community whether it be celebrate, we’re gonna inform our community whether it be about discrimination or ways that we can ultimately march toward full liberation from racial oppression. So the Black press really had a specific narrative around making sure that its community knew –
the story of the day from their perspective. Right? From a Black perspective.
Ken Ward: Mm-hmm.
Sheryl Kennedy Haydel: Don’t get me wrong. Just like the Banner, they had fun. You know, it was kind of advice columns and all that fun stuff wrapped into one spot. Because, as, as you very well know, there was a time, and some might argue, argue continues to be, where Black, the Black community was — it was only covered in a negative, from a negative perspective, or we were forgotten or just omitted from any coverage. So the Black press was really a way for us to see ourselves, right, to be seen and heard in a way that we hadn’t been. Now, with the Bennett Banner, so before my study I did not find much connection between the Black student-run press and the Black press, meaning we would, I would read all these great, we have some great scholars, right, about the history of the Black press, but when I started digging into the Banner –
I realized that much of what they were doing was very similar to what was happening in the Black press, meaning they were an advocacy arm. They were also an accountability arm for the Black community. They knew their audience really well. Again, they weren’t really writing for maybe a white audience or someone else. They were really writing for people in their community to either be, I guess, held accountable or to be uplifted, celebrated, you name it. So I saw these same attributes in the Banner, and that there was a connection between the advocacy of the Black press as well as the advocacy role of the student-run, the Black student-run press. So there’s a connection because in, in many ways through my research and doing some oral interviews, I learned that even, even though at the Banner maybe they didn’t say, “Oh, yes, we’re, we’re doing this exactly the way Ida B. Wells would –
do it,” there was still an understanding of the legacy and the heritage in their community, and they knew they were a part of that legacy and that their work was, was intimately connected to the same spirit and hopefulness of the Black press.
Ken Ward: Interesting. And, and you said a little bit ago that the students there really seemed to understand the moment as well, the moment that they were in in their history. So, you know, for some of us who may understand a little bit more about the civil rights era of like, or the movement in the 1960s, less so maybe in the 1930s through 1950s, which is what you’re looking at here, how would you characterize the Civil Rights Movement, movement in this era, and what is the paper doing to sort of write and, and understand in that space?
Sheryl Kennedy Haydel: Absolutely. So you’ll often hear some scholars call the 1960s the modern day Civil Rights Movement and before that, the timeframe that I’m studying –
there was always a march towards civil rights. It wasn’t as well organized, as well thought out perhaps as the 1960s, but what — an argument that I also make is that papers like the Bennett Banner and other Black student-run publications were a part, were precursor to the modern-day rights, the modern Civil Rights Movement, meaning that their work paved the way and made it possible for the Civil Rights Movement to have the momentum to have a lot of young educated Black intellectuals to be a part of that movement, because they were already doing a lot of some of those same things that were, that needed to be done to advocate for, you know, freedom, equal rights, equality, all those types of things. So that was one part about how they were attached. Also, when I –
sat down and talked with — her name is Linda Beatrice Brown – she was a student at Bennett College during the latter part of my study – she also expressed how the students who wrote on the paper were seen on campus as true leaders, true scholars, women who had found their purpose in terms of they were great writers and they wanted to find a way to share not only that gift or talent, but they also had ideas about how the world should be around them. So I always remember this part in her interview where she shared that the students on the paper were seen as it was a coveted position, and to be recommended to write for the paper you were held in high regard. I also compare that to what we know about some of our, or, or many parts of the Black press where it was an honor to write for the paper, where people –
in the community held you in high esteem. So those similarities continue. Again, and also just to kinda follow up on your question in terms of how this paper and so many others like it just ultimately paved the way, whether quietly or forcefully, for what we saw burgeoning in the 1960s.
Ken Ward: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. I’m glad you brought up that, that campus culture because that is one thing that absolutely fascinated me as I was reading your paper. This kind of – first of all, it just seems like a fantastic campus community. It’s, it’s, it’s incredible. And I was fascinated by the relationship that you wrote about between the paper and Bennett College. Right? They had an interesting relationship. The paper wasn’t like a mouthpiece of the university, but they seemed to share a guiding philosophy and so they kinda seemed to mutually reinforce one another. Can you talk about that relationship? You spoke a little bit about where the paper came from, but how did that relationship with the university and this student-run newspaper continue over time?
Sheryl Kennedy Haydel: Very great question. I want to start off with the, the phrase “mouthpiece.” So throughout the study, every now and then the editors, the reporters, editorial staff would discuss how they were not censored, they were not an arm of the administration, that they were independent thinkers, and that this was something, it was important that their community, their readership knew that. From time to time in the letters to the editor, one of their classmates would kind of accuse them [laughs] of maybe perhaps being an arm of the administration, and they took particular exception to that.
Ken Ward: Hm.
Sheryl Kennedy Haydel: I think that that’s also some similarities there in the Black press with those same accusations, right, of being maybe an arm of a government or an administration or, or someone else.
Ken Ward: Mm-hmm.
Sheryl Kennedy Haydel: So they had an independent streak. From what I’ve been able to learn, that came directly –
from the faculty on campus who really wanted the newspaper to help the students involved to be leaders, and it’s hard to be a leader when you’re being told what to do is what – so I asked in my interview with Ms. Brown about the editorial meetings and how they would come up with story ideas, and she said it would always be student driven. They would all throw out ideas. While an adviser might have been in the room, the adviser was just there to just kind of be a sounding board, but not to jump in and be heavy-handed. So speaking, it served as, in many ways, a microcosm of the campus community because it was an intimate campus, not, not large at all, and the students came because of this one-on-one attention to their development, and I think the paper literally was an extension of what was happening in the — throughout the campus community.
So it was a special place, and I do believe that it made – not only was it a special place. Their writings reflected just how special a campus community it was, but it was nurtured. It seemed extremely intentional by the faculty, I’d probably say the faculty first, that the students have an independent spirit and voice.
Ken Ward: Well, and it seemed to me in, in your writing like these two got confidence from one another. Like you give the example in your paper of an incident where Dr. King was invited to campus to speak around 1958, I think it was.
Sheryl Kennedy Haydel: Mm-hmm.
Ken Ward: Um, and that almost didn’t happen, but there was sort of rallying both on the part of the campus and in the paper, kind of helping each other push toward making that happen. Can you talk about that episode a little bit?
Sheryl Kennedy Haydel: Yes, absolutely. So the president at the time, during the course of my study, Bennett hired, or the board of trustees brought on its first Black female president.
And President Player, she was, I would say, a quiet feminist, meaning she believed in the strength of womanhood. She also believed in the effectiveness that women could bring to pivotal issues of the day. She got wind of Dr. King was supposed to have a visit. The NAACP had invited him to visit Greensboro, but because during that time he was falling in and out of popularity, and the NAACP decided, hey, this doesn’t seem like a great time for us to have him come, and we don’t want to be associated or connected with him. Well, when she, the president of Bennett, got word of that, she decided to reach out to him and said, “Hey, you can come on our campus and you have a place at Bennett.” And it was a — from what I’ve been able to put together through the study, was a beautiful occasion.
There’s a photo of Dr. King meeting with the reporters of the Bennett Banner, and it was a one-on-one meaning. It was maybe three or four of the young women with Dr. King, and he answered questions. It was really something special because it was of her bravery, which is also reflected in the students that they were able to have such, I think, an assertive voice around issues because they saw that from the very top. So yes, Dr. King, instead of the visit being canceled, he had an appearance on Bennett’s campus, and the students of this paper got a first-hand, birds-eye view interview in order to write about it for their publication.
Ken Ward: So what other sorts of things were the students writing about? Uh, you say that they clearly weren’t, you know, reluctant to take on big issues of their time. What were the things that they were focused on then?
Sheryl Kennedy Haydel: Right. So when it came to – I want to talk about their political activism.
Ken Ward: Mm-hmm.
Sheryl Kennedy Haydel: Because it was –
striking to me for them to be so not only astute but passionate around politics. So a lot of their writing when it came to politics centered around holding politicians accountable, making sure that politicians knew that the Black community existed and that they were charged with representing not just white citizens but also Black citizens. There was much discussion about just public, how the public, voting public can be very fickle. They had an election on campus, which I learned that many campuses did then, where they would have a mock election to see, you know, if they were to have a vote today would a candidate win. And they discussed how, you know, fickle the votes — the campus community was about various elections and why. So they did spend time talking about that.
Another thing is that they talked about the war. World War II they mentioned was just a time where they wanted their government to celebrate and acknowledge that there were not only Black soldiers but why it mattered to the folks back home. So that was another area that they were very engaged with. And probably one last point around community building. So how I arrived at this being an area that I thought would be a particular interest, in all of the papers, and most people maybe assume wrongly that if it’s the Black press or if it’s written by you know, a Black writer, that it must always be about, yay, hurray, we’re just gonna, you know, celebrate all the time. Their publications really held each other accountable in terms of whether they were –
paying attention in class, all the way from paying attention in class and giving it their all to are you paying attention to the world around you? You know, are you doing more – are you just a part of an organization, meaning on-campus organization, because it’s the in thing to do, or are you using that organization to better yourself as a leader and as a citizen? It was fascinating to read how they really did hold each other accountable for excellence, around excellence and being excellent.
Ken Ward: Absolutely. Like I loved how outspoken and assertive their voice seemed to be toward other students who didn’t kinda cooperate in that mission of fostering community and responsibility. I wrote down a quote from, from something you had mentioned in the paper. It was one of those journalists, in an editorial they wrote, “Does it never occur to you that You,” capital You, “every student is very, very important in this whole setup? You make a college. You can make this the college, our college.” And then they continued, “On this campus one is dependent on one another to a great extent.
Therefore, my concern is for you and your concern is for me.” What do you think it, what, what drove those students to be so bold in that community mission that they saw as a part of their campus?
Sheryl Kennedy Haydel: So I also believe they understood privilege, and what I mean by that is as Black women, you know, and between 1930 and 1959, there was still a lot of struggle, as you know, for Black people, Black women in particular, and so to be on this college campus, to be afforded a first-class education, I think in so many ways they were empowered by that and they understood, again back to my phrase, they understood the moment that they were in. And I do believe there was an activism sense because, again, they’re in a bubble college in Greensboro, North Carolina, and they – and what I mean by bubble, meaning that they, you know, they’re all there. They’re — at least they’re from a family that could afford it, right –
afford them to have this education. So, hey, we’re gonna meet the moment. I do believe that the faculty and administration also supported this notion of, hey, you have to take — you have to really leverage your place in space, is what I like to say.
Ken Ward: Mm-hmm.
Sheryl Kennedy Haydel: And that is speak up and speak out, and the community really needs you. It also might say a lot about HBCUs during that time, historically Black colleges and universities understanding that they had a very, very different mission during this early 20th century moments. Right? Um, that people still were craving, hungry for the type of liberation that they knew they deserved, and were really relying on, you know, those who could afford to be educated, afford to speak out to really help them find –
that, that space where we could finally get equality, which is why I say this was really, there were so many, so many decades, you know, before, but this period, too, was a really strong leadup to the 1960s Civil Rights Movement.
Ken Ward: Do you have a sense — the study ends at the end of the 1950s, if I’m, if I understood correctly.
Sheryl Kennedy Haydel: Yes.
Ken Ward: Do you have a sense what happened to this paper after that?
Sheryl Kennedy Haydel: Yeah.
Ken Ward: Is it still in publication? Where has it gone?
Sheryl Kennedy Haydel: It’s still in publication. I must say, you know, the student-run Black press, to me, mirrored greatly the Black press, the professional Black press, because once some, our top newspapers started hiring Black reporters, as you know, like during the ’60s and ’70s, the Black press really diminished in ways. The same happened to the student-run Black press on so many campuses, and Bennett is similar. I would say –
from what I have been able to read from, you know, post-1959, that this window of time that I, for my study, was some of their strongest work in terms of advocacy, accountability, and just awaken, the kind of writing that really awakens the soul. They’re still pressing forward. Don’t get me wrong. But, excuse me, this was some of their most profound work.
Ken Ward: Absolutely. Well, we’re running short on time, but we have one last question. We ask it to — we put it to every guest. Why in your opinion does journalism history matter?
Sheryl Kennedy Haydel: Oh, absolutely. Honestly, if we don’t know the story, how the story begins or the middle of the story, how do we know how the story not necessarily will end, but will continue? I just believe journalism history is so much, is so important to who we are for three reasons. Number one, it allows us to –
feel a sense of connection to what has come before us. Number two, it also reminds us that journalism is rooted in our country, our nation, our world, and how the work that all journalists do has either, in many cases, improved the way we see the world today. And, three, because it also opens the curtains a little wider to how journalism really has not only touched every corner, but how diversity — how diverse journalism is, meaning how every community has been able to use journalism to help better its situation. And I really believe that journalism history, without it, that we will never fully understand the importance of the work that we do even today as journalists, or can’t have the right respect for journalists that we need to in order –
to make our community more informed and more intentional about the way we live.
Ken Ward: Absolutely. Excellent. Well, Sheryl, thank you very much for being on the show. I enjoyed this conversation. Thanks again for joining me.
Sheryl Kennedy Haydel: Thank you for having me, Ken. It’s been a pleasure.
Ken Ward: Well, that’s it for this episode. Thanks for tuning in, and be sure to subscribe to our podcast. You can also follow us on Twitter @JHistoryJournal. That’s all one word. Until next time I’m your host, Ken Ward, signing off with the words of Edward R. Murrow. Good night, and good luck.