National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; transfer from the Library of Congress
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Born Port Antonio, Jamaica
One of the first persons of African descent to earn a U.S. college degree (Bowdoin, 1826), John Russwurm co-founded the first Black newspaper in the United States in 1827. He and Samuel Cornish established Freedom’s Journal as a powerful platform for African Americans to assert not only the imperative of freedom but also that of racial equality. The newspaper’s influence was widespread and is credited with inspiring William Lloyd Garrison to launch the Liberator in 1831.
An ardent abolitionist, Russwurm initially opposed the efforts of the American Colonization Society to send free Black people to its West African colony of Liberia. When he became convinced, however, that the civil rights of African Americans would never be recognized in the United States, he immigrated to Liberia in 1829. After serving as editor of the Liberia Herald, Russwurm was appointed as the first Black governor of Maryland in Liberia, the independent Liberian settlement established by the Maryland State Colonization Society.