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press & News

RMSC and the Rochester Public Library Collaborate to Highlight Local Black-Owned Newspaper, The Frederick Douglass Voice

    The Rochester Museum & Science Center (RMSC) is excited to announce the digitization of one of the longest running Black newspapers in New York, The Frederick Douglass Voice. A selection of these digitized papers will be made available online on Friday, November 12, in celebration of Howard Wilson Coles’ birthday, owner and editor of the publication.

    Hosting this collection online was made possible through a grant from the Rochester Regional Library Council and in partnership with the Rochester Public Library’s Local History & Genealogy Division. 

    Howard W. Coles was a groundbreaking Black newspaper editor and journalist, as well as a historian, author, radio broadcaster, candidate for public office, and activist. He chronicled and influenced Rochester’s 20th-century Black community by showcasing literary, artistic, and intellectual achievements of Black community members, and through documenting their culture, community activities, living conditions, and everyday occurrences and concerns. 

    The newspaper was circulated for 63 years, from 1933 to 1996, and there are 350 original copies of The Voice in RMSC’s collection. 

    The newspapers have served as an important primary resource for local scholars and thought leaders, such as the Center for Teen Empowerment Youth History Ambassadors, when researching important topics including redlining in Rochester and racism and resistance in the 3rd Ward. Digitizing The Voice will lower the informational barriers to both scholars and the general public, making this documentation of the rich cultural heritage of Rochester’s Black community more accessible.  

    “Now, in this 21st century, the need to read these stories is even more important. The children of the people of that time have become eager to hear the history of what came before them. They revel in seeing the pictures and reading the histories of their forebearers found in these newspapers. The papers gave voice to the people, allowing them to tell their stories in ways only they could do. Access to the papers will help to ensure these voices and our history will live forever,” said Joan Coles Howard, Howard W. Coles’ daughter. 

    The digitization of The Voice newspapers also ensures long-term preservation of these objects as a part of the Museum’s collections and provides a unique opportunity to share the newspapers with new audiences.  

    “The fragility of the newspapers, like all printed periodicals, previously limited the ability to provide broad public access. Now that they are digitized, we can share this invaluable resource more easily and without worry of damage,” said Stephanie Ball, Archivist and Librarian at the RMSC. “We are so excited to share this unparalleled resource with the community in such an accessible format. From researchers to hobby-historians in Rochester and beyond, anyone can read and enjoy the collection online.”

    A sampling of issues of The Voice will be hosted on the Rochester Public Library’s Rochester Voices website starting Friday, November 12. Rochester Voices also contains a three-part oral history recording of Howard W. Coles and over 60 other oral histories from the Black community. 

    The remaining issues of The Voice will be available in 2022 on the RMSC collections website, and on the free New York State Historic Newspapers website

    In the interim, please email the RMSC’s Archivist and Librarian at sball@rmsc.org for any questions or digital access to issues of The Voice that are not currently available online.