In 1900, just thirty five years after slavery ended, there were over fifty African-American newspapers and magazines published across the country. Since 1827, when Boston teacher and Maine resident, John Brown Russwurm, founded Freedom’s Journalin New York City, African-Americans published and distributed their own abolitionist and religious magazines that fought against southern slavery and northern segregation. By 1900, African Americans in Boston had published various national and local newspapers of their own, including Josephine Ruffin’s Woman’s Era(est. 1894), and Archibald Grimke’s the Hub(est. 1883). The Colored American Magazinewas founded by Boston native Pauline Elizabeth Hopkins (1859 – 1930) in 1900. The first issue was actually published out of the West Canton Street home of Hopkins’ co-editors, Walter Wallace and Harper Fortune, African-American migrants from Virginia. Hopkins herself was a native New Englander, born in Portland Maine and raised in Boston. The Colored American Magazineeventually moved to this spot at what was then 5 Park Square, and by 1901 it reached over 15,500 readers a month. The Magazine, which one critic called “the colored American’s Atlantic Monthly,” published romantic serial fiction, political news and essays, and cultural criticism by African-Americans across the country. When Hopkins began the magazine she was already a well-known performer and creative writer, whose Peculiar Sam(1879) was the first stage play written and performed by an African-American woman. The Colored Americanpublished Hopkins’ four serialized novels – Contending Forces(1900), Hagar’s Daughter(1901), Winona(1902), and Of One Blood(1903) – as well as her short stories, including “Talma Gordon” (1900), and “The Mystery Within Us (1900).” A prolific author who wrote most of the magazine’s profiles (using various pseudonyms), Hopkins was one of the most popular African-American writers of the time, rivaling only Paul Laurence Dunbar and Charles W. Chesnutt in national audience.
Despite the magazine’s popularity, it suffered financial challenges and controversy – many male leaders of the time disagreed with Hopkins’ editorial control, while more conservative editors worried about the publication’s implicit criticism of colonialism and racial segregation. When her male colleagues moved the magazine to New York City, under a new editor and financial backing from Tuskegee Institute President, Booker T. Washington, Hopkins briefly moved with it. But by 1906 she was back in Boston, writing articles for the Chicago-based literary magazine, Voice of the Negro. In addition to African-American literature, culture, and political commentary, theColored Americanpublished works by people of color across the colonial world, included South African Alan Kirkland Soga. Hopkins also founded another short-lived African-American literary magazine, New Era, in 1916. She died at a fire in her Cambridge home in 1930.
Certain books were “banned in Boston” at least as far back as 1651, when one William Pynchon wrote a book criticizing Puritanism.