Freedomways was the central theoretical journal of the 20th century black arts and intellectual movement in the United States. From its opening issue in the spring of 1961, it invited historians, sociologists, economists, artists, workers, and students to write on African American history, heritage, and culture. The brainchild of Louis Burnham and Edward Strong, it was shepherded by W.E.B. Du Bois — who edited the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s (NAACP’s) The Crisis — and his wife Shirley Graham Du Bois served as the first general editor. The journal was impacted most profoundly by the thought of Du Bois and Paul Robeson and from its founding displayed a decisively activist tone.
From its start in 1961, Freedomways was active in reporting on and providing insight into the Civil Rights Movement and events taking place in the South. Its political leanings also made it an active voice for African liberation movements and decolonization movements everywhere. Freedomways published articles by African liberation leaders such as Kwame Nkrumah, Julius K. Nyerere, Agostinho Nego, and Jomo Kenyatta, as well as Caribbean thinkers such as C.L.R. James and Cheddi Jagan, often providing American audiences with their first exposure to the ideas of those who were actively engaged in fighting colonialism. In 1965 Freedomways became the first black publication to oppose U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. The journal was also concerned with broader issues including organized labor, affirmative action in the workplace, education, the role of women, the justice system, and the death penalty.
The magazine’s major focus after 1965, however, was on the black studies, arts, and culture movements. The journal published writings from three Novel Prize laureates (poets Pablo Neruda and Derek Walcott and Nobel Peace Prize recipient Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.) as well as prize-winning authors such as James Baldwin and Alice Walker. Walker later became a contributing editor of the journal. One of the guiding principles of the journal was that the black artist should be a central guide and voice in ongoing freedom struggles.
Freedomways published its last issue in 1985. During its 24 year history Freedomways through its pages gave a platform to hundreds of voices, both famous and less well known, who spoke out for intellectual, cultural, social, political, and economic freedom. As such it became part of the rich intellectual heritage of the African American community.