In July 1888, Edward Elder Cooper, originally from Florida, founded The Freeman, the first illustrated African-American newspaper in the United States. Cooper was born in 1859, and arrived in Indianapolis at age nineteen. He was the only African-American graduate of his high school class. In 1883, he founded The Colored World, which was later bought by Levi Christy, who changed the name to The Indianapolis World.
The Freeman was one of three African-American newspapers in Indianapolis; The Indianapolis Leader being the first in August 1879. The Indianapolis Leader was a Republican-oriented weekly newspaper, and The Freeman was its Democratic counterpart. The Indianapolis Leader stopped publication in the mid-1890’s, while The Indianapolis World and The Freeman both continued into the first quarter of the twentieth century. The Freeman was circulated nationally, and focused on news of interest to the African-American community. It also featured illustrations and biographies of notable African American figures. The Freeman was the first African-American newspaper to feature political cartoons.
In 1892, Cooper sold his interest in The Freeman to George L. Knox, who at the time was recognized as one of the most prominent African-American citizens of Indianapolis. Knox had been born a slave in Tennessee in 1841. He later worked for the Union Army, in the Fifty-Seventh Indiana Infantry, and made his way north to Indiana in 1864. He settled in Indianapolis, and learned the barber trade.
Soon thereafter, he opened his own barbershop in Greenfield, where he became acquainted with James Whitcomb Riley, who– at the time– was the teenage son of Greenfield’s mayor, Reuban A. Riley. In 1884, Knox left Greenfield to settle in Indianapolis. After Knox bought The Freeman, he began publishing therein, what would be chapters in his autobiography, “Slave and Freeman, the Autobiography of George L. Knox.” Knox changed the focus of The Freeman from Democratic to Republican.
After relinquishing control of The Freeman, Cooper moved to Washington, D.C., and founded The Colored American, a national African-American newspaper in the same style as The Freeman. Cooper passed away in 1908 after a fatal illness.
The Indianapolis Recorder began publication in 1897, and was eventually the downfall of The Freeman. The Indianapolis Recorder‘s focus on local news and The Depression forced The Freeman to cease publication in 1926. Knox passed away a year later, and is buried in Crown Hill Cemetery.