Launched in 1931 by the Southern Newspaper Syndicate as a tri-weekly under the editorial direction of Lewis O. Swingler (1906-1962), the World later claimed to be the “South’s Oldest and Leading Colored Semi-Weekly Newspaper.”
Though the World emphasized racial pride, black economic development, equal pay for black teachers, and the historic accomplishments of African Americans, much of its coverage focused on crime and scandal. The World aimed criticism at Jim Crow laws as well as the Gandhian nonviolent tactics of leaders like A. Philip Randolph. The newspaper generally adhered to a “law and order” line in the face of the rising black militancy of the 1940s and after.
During the 1940s, the World’s circulation peaked at more than 16,000. By comparison, the two leading white dailies in Memphis boasted a combined circulation of over 220,000 in 1942. During the war the World emphasized the contrast between advances of African Americans in the armed forces with a lack of progress on the local home front.
The World maintained a traditional “Party-of-Lincoln” Republicanism in most matters, but also supported civil rights and fair employment legislation. Though never too openly critical of the Crump machine, the World applauded the anti-Crump insurgent campaign of Estes Kefauver in the Senate race of 1948. That same year the World urged and trumpeted a major breach in the color barrier: the city’s hiring of its first black uniformed policemen of the twentieth century.
In addition to the talents of editor Swingler, the World regularly carried a column by Memphis educator and entertainer Nat D. Williams, a prominent figure in the rise of black-oriented radio. In 1951 Swingler departed to establish the rival Tri-State Defender, and the World slowly declined in influence and circulation. In 1963 circulation dropped to a mere 6,000. Decreasing frequency paralleled the decline in circulation; issued twice a week in 1960, the World ended as a weekly. The Republican-oriented World failed to keep readers among increasingly Democratic local blacks and ceased publication in 1973.
Henry Lewis Suggs, ed., The Black Press in the South, 1865-1979 (1983)