‘Super cool’: Minnesota’s oldest Black-owned newspaper puts its archive online

An image of three front page newspapers
An image collage of the front pages of the Minneapolis Spokesman published on Aug. 10, 1934, May 21, 1954 and Aug. 14, 1959.
Courtesy of Minnesota Historical Society and Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder

The Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder has documented daily life in the Twin Cities’ Black community for more than 85 years. But until recently, finding stories from that rich past meant slogging through stacks of old newsprint.

Now, that history can be found with a few clicks. Archives reaching back to 1934 are online now at the Minnesota Historical Society's digital newspaper hub.

"We've, over the years, have had a lot of phone calls about old articles. Because our archive system is kind of archaic, it wasn't very user-friendly. You'd be back there digging through old papers forever,” said Tracey Williams-Dillard, owner and publisher of the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder, the state’s oldest Black-owned newspaper.

“With it being digitized, now you can put a name in and all the articles that have that name, and it will pop up now,” she said. “This is super cool."

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Almost 11,000 pages of the Minneapolis Spokesman, one of the forerunners of today’s Spokesman-Recorder, can be accessed through the hub, said Anne Levin, the digital newspapers manager at the Minnesota Historical Society. 

Issues of the St. Paul Recorder, Twin-City Herald and Timely Digest will also be added to the digital hub in the next few months. Currently, about 8,530 pages of the Recorder are available, covering the years from 1934 to 1941. About 1,800 pages of the Herald and more than 200 pages of the Timely Digest are also digitized.

The project is part of an effort to digitize newspaper archives through the National Endowment for the Humanities. Issues up until 1963 are also available through the Library of Congress website, Chronicling America, while issues up until 1964 are available on the Minnesota Digital Newspaper Hub.

Federal funding through the historical society has helped digitize more than 100 Minnesota newspaper archives.

Williams-Dillard and Levin said they hope to continue adding archive materials from the newspaper to the digital hub. 

“This is definitely something that I wanted to see happen; it was just unaffordable for me to do it, and now it’s done.” said Williams-Dillard, whose grandfather, Cecil E. Newman founded the Spokesman along with the St. Paul Recorder, the Twin-City Herald and the Timely Digest. 

“They want access to all that history,” she said of her readers, “and they didn't have it aside from coming in here, or going to the Minnesota Historical Society and waddling through all their copies. And this way, they can do it straight from their own desk. So it means a lot to people that are either historians or care about the Black history of our paper."