Simply put, the history of the Pittsburgh Courier is nearly unmatched.
Established in 1907 by Edward Harleston, a guard in the H. J. Heinz food-packing plant, the Pittsburgh Courier gained national prominence after attorney Robert Lee Vann became the newspaper’s editor and publisher, treasurer, and legal counsel in 1910. In his lifetime, Vann saw the Courier grow to become the largest, most influential Black newspaper in the nation with a circulation of 250,000 and over 400 employees in 14 cities.
In the 1920s, Vann made efforts to improve the quality of the news included in the growing paper. In November 1925, the Courier joined the Associated Negro Press, the news collective of African-American publications. Under Vann, the “Local News” section of the Courier covered the social lives of the upper- and middle-class members of the Hill District, the hub of African American culture in Pittsburgh. This included accounts of vacations, marriages, and parties of prominent families and the goings on of local groups.
The Courier also worked as a tool for social progress.
By 1928, the Courier’s four editions (local, northern, eastern, and southern) were distributed in all 48 states and internationally, and by 1938, the paper was the largest American Black Weekly, with a circulation of 250,000. Vann legitimized the Courier with a professional staff, national advertisements, a dedicated printing plant, and wide circulation.
Following Vann’s death in late 1940, close associate Ira Lewis filled his role as president and executive editor. The Courier maintained its upward trajectory, reaching an all-time circulation high of 357,000 in 1947. When Lewis died in 1948, Vann’s widow, Jessie Mathews Vann, assumed the role of president-treasurer.
Upon the entrance of the United States into World War II, the editors of the Pittsburgh Courier nominated African-American journalist Frank E. Bolden to be an accredited war correspondent. Bolden was one of only two African-American war correspondents accepted, and became a nationally recognized journalist, in addition to being city editor of the Courier from 1956 until 1962.
In 1953, the Courier published 16 regional editions, totaling 250,000 copies.
In 1966, John H. Sengstacke purchased the newspaper and renamed it the New Pittsburgh Courier. It became part of Sengstacke Newspapers (now Real Times Media), which also includes the Chicago Defender, Michigan Chronicle, Atlanta Tribune and Atlanta Daily World.
Today, the New Pittsburgh Courier continues to serve as a trusted vehicle for Black expression, publishing an award-winning edition every Wednesday. Our mission remains the same as it was 111 years ago — to tell the stories of Pittsburgh’s African American community, in ways that no other entity can.
Pittsburgh television station WQED aired a tremendous program on the history of the Courier. It can be viewed here.
The Courier’s Awards over the years…
The New Pittsburgh Courier has won at least five John Russwurn trophies as the top African American newspaper in the country, and most recently, in 2020, the Courier won six first-place awards in the state of Pennsylvania’s Keystone Media Awards.
The Courier won two Pittsburgh Black Media Federation Vann Media Awards in 2020.
In 2019 at the National Newspaper Publishers Association’s Merit Awards in Cincinnati, the Courier won three awards — first place for Circulation Promotion, second place for Best News Pictures, and third place for Best Layout and Design.
Also in 2019, the Courier’s Debbie Norrell and LaMont Jones Jr. each won a Pittsburgh Black Media Federation Vann Media Award! Click the link below to see the awards and photos!
In 2018, the Courier won a Golden Quill Award from the Press Club of Pennsylvania for Best Front Page Design! Click the link to see the award and story…
Also in 2018, the Courier’s Rob Taylor Jr. won a Pittsburgh Black Media Federation Vann Media Award for Best Newspaper Education Story! Click the link to see the award and story...