The Department of Justice called The Messenger "the most able and the most dangerous of all the Negro publications."
The independent magazine was founded in New York City by labor activist, A. Philip Randolph (see previous post) and economist, Chandler Owen in August 1917 with the help of the Socialist Party.
It was also financed by Lucille Campbell Green Randolph (A. Philip Randolph’s wife), who was a political activist in her own right, and successful salon owner in New York City. Her success helped finance the paper and her salon also served as a distribution center for the publication.
The paper, published from 1917-1928, challenged U.S. participation in World War I, encouraged armed self-defense for African Americans against white mobs and lynchers and was deemed radical and threatening by the U.S Department of Justice.
After the weakening of the Socialist party, The Messenger focused on unionization efforts and critiques of current schools of thought. In addition, it published the stories of popular writers like Langston Hughes, Wallace Thurman, and helped Zora Neale Hurston publish her “Eatonville Anthology.” The magazine became more of a literary and cultural magazine, strengthening Black intellectual and political identity in the age of Jim Crow.
Overall it promoted Black culture, art and theater, encouraged self-defense, and exposed a lot of people to socialism, which came with critiques of other popular leaders of the time.
We can clearly see the intersection of art and radicalism during this time. Contributors including writers, musicians, teachers, and painters helped understand that issues they didn’t know were political like issues affecting the livelihood of their families, their access to resources, and their ability to be themselves—were and are political ones.