The first issue of Neith appeared in Saint John, New Brunswick, in February 1903. It was founded and edited by Abraham Beverley Walker (see A.B. Walker) and Printed by Paterson Publishing & Co. It was printed in super octavo format on medium weight printing paper with a matte finish for covers and a gloss finish for images. Ranging from fifty-four pages (no. 5) to seventy-six pages (no.3), and averaging sixty-pages per issue, the magazine was an expensively-produced illustrated semi-monthly. Its stated purpose, expressed in the first issue’s editorial, was “to set people thinking, to extirpate erroneous ideas, to advance the spirit of freedom, to stir up a feeling of brothership among all men, and to spread Christian civilization throughout Africa” (1).
The first issue of Neith is exemplary of Walker’s editorial direction: running to seventy-two pages, the issue consisted of prefatory remarks followed by eleven unsigned short essays, five medium-length essays (including the first part of Walker’s serialized “The Negro Problem, and How to Solve it”), four signed longer essays, three poems, literary notes (comprising brief essays, commentary, and reviews), and editorial announcements. In addition to Walker, six contributors are identified in the first issue.
The topics of Walker's essays vary widely, but nearly all of them contribute to the Afrocentric, imperialist ideology to which Walker was committed, and nearly seventy-five percent of the entire first issue concerns subjects directly related to African-American, African-Canadian, or pan-African issues, politics, and initiatives.
Nevertheless, the magazine's contents also demonstrate a certain degree of eclecticism. Articles on the Canadian economy, the threat of irreligiosity, and English factory legislation; conventional Victorian-Romantic verse expressing melancholic nostalgia and saccharine rural idylls; literary essays extolling the genius of Emile Zola and Henrik Ibsen; reviews of the latest chapbooks of Charles G.D. Roberts and Bliss Carman—all are interposed between Walker’s forceful polemics on racial advancement and black nationalism. For Walker, Neith was to be a vehicle for change and racial advancement, and at the core of his editorial programme was a conviction in the power of civil discourse coupled with creative expression to affect social reform.
In most respects, the first issue is typical of all five issues published by Neith. The largest proportion of every issue is dedicated to racial politics, and these articles are accompanied by articles, poems, reviews, and short essays by 4-6 other contributors. But subsequent issues also reveal the financial exigencies under which the magazine was published. In the second issue, Walker announced that Neith would no longer use italic type in order to be “utilitarian." Meanwhile, the issues consistently shrank, with the fourth and fifth issues numbering only 56 and 52 pages, respectively. Finally, the fourth and fifth issues were printed on cheaper, light-weight pulp paper and contained fewer photographs. All of these changes are indicative of financial trouble.
The third issue appeared three months behind schedule and five months elapsed between the fourth and fifth issues. Walker begins the fifth issue with “A Special Note to Our Friends” in which he laments that the publication of Neith “is fraught with untold perplexities—perplexities, even at times, assuming a dramatic aspect.” He assures his readers, however, that “We are bound to win the goal, and nothing, except sickness and death, shall daunt us. NO SURRENDER, is our slogan”. The slogan was misplaced, but it is fitting that Neith ended the way it began, restating the magazine’s pledge to “offer all opposition within our capacity to every form of evil or oppression." That fifth issue, published in January 1904, would be the last.
An Africadian periodical produced on the periphery of nation and empire, Neith stands alone for having introduced into Canadian publishing the first African-Canadian literary magazine. But it is also singular for having initiated a radical black politics in a nation where racial prejudice all but occluded the possibility for a generative discourse of race.