by John Brewer
For New Pittsburgh Courier
The past 100 years have been marked with literally thousands of events, critical dates, accomplishments, failures and historically significant acts by African-Americans. Historians often record and credit those closely associated with the known facts about an event. They frequently overlook the “root cause” of the event. This article is dedicated to the Pittsburgh Courier newspaper first published in 1910 by a small band of African-American businessmen, clergy and leaders living in Pittsburgh.
|MEMORIAL—A large memorial was held for Robert L. Vann on his death in 1940. Above: Courier editors and Mrs. Jessie Vann stand with various city, state and national figures behind a military honor guard.
While it may be impossible to disclose to our readers every story, event and important fact contributing to our success or failure in a given field of endeavor, it is possible to concentrate on major “root causes” that prompted the public act to happen. We believe that an impressive list of major Courier campaigns which were conceptualized, developed, and supported by its staff and ownership were responsible for the following campaigns that influenced and often changed history in this country and elsewhere in the world.
•Great pressure was exerted on the government with letters written to President Calvin Coolidge to pass anti-lynching legislation. Outrage was also expressed by the Courier surrounding the injustice of the Scottsboro Boys, lynchings in Natchez, Miss., and elsewhere. No law was ever passed.
•Courier publisher Robert L. Vann’s massive political campaign in 1932 in his historic speech appealing to 12 million Blacks living in America to “turn the picture of Abraham Lincoln to the Wall.” This resulted in an abrupt change in political parties for the mass of African-Americans who changed their party affiliation from Republican (Abraham Lincoln’s party) to Democratic. Thus, 70 years of Republican Party patronage first established during the Reconstruction era (1865 to 1877), was suddenly reversed.
COURIER EXECUTIVE EDITOR P.L. PRATTIS
•Italian-Ethiopian War coverage campaign by historian and war correspondent J.A. Rodgers. The Italian-Ethiopian War tragedy was covered exclusively by the Pittsburgh Courier at the request of ruler Haile Selassie. The Courier coverage resulted in the eventual support by the United States to the Ethiopians against the fascist government of Italy in the 1940s.
•The Dorie Miller campaign during the bombing of Pearl Harbor by the Imperial air force of the Japanese empire. Dorie Miller, from Waco Texas, a cook working in the mess hall while his ship was under fire, shot down several Japanese planes. Miller was later awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his bravery. The Pittsburgh Courier skillfully showed the public every aspect of Miller’s heroic actions to the world which resulted in the Navy honoring him. The Miller campaign was a vital part of the fight for all African-Americans in the armed forces.
•The Double V campaign during World War II that mandated “Victory at Home, Victory Abroad!” The Double V symbol was created by Courier illustrators during WWII to reflect the sentiments of Black soldiers fighting against fascism, nazism and oppression abroad while their families faced racism, discrimination and oppression on American soil. The entire race of African-Americans soon supported the Double V movement by openly displaying victory signs often expressed in clothing and hair styles never seen before the ’40s.
•The public conduct campaign was directed at ending segregation in the nation’s capital. There were protests organized and supported by the NAACP and the Urban League. Pickets were directed to end discrimination against the Yellow Cab company, bus transportation system and public accomodations that included restaurants and hotels.
•Sports campaigns were a major part of the Courier campaigns of the 1949s, ’50s, ’60s and ’70s. Courier sportswriters and legends Bill Nunn Sr. Chester Washington, Wendell Smith, Bill Nunn Jr. and others applied extreme pressure on Major League Baseball, the National Football League, and professional basketball and boxing to open the doors of universities and professional sports to Blacks. The Courier picked “All- American” football teams from Black colleges as well as the East-West Game of the Negro Baseball Leagues.
•Landmark cases were published by Courier journalists to show the American public how an injustice system of law openly discriminated against Black people. Famous photo-journalist Alex Rivera’s coverage of the Rosa Lee Ingram story revealed just how southern Jim Crow laws were applied in southern courts. In 1949 Ingram lived with family in Georgia. Her husband had recently died and left Rosa with 12 children on a tract of land near Ellaville, Ga.
Ingram and her sons were sharecroppers. A nearby neighbor complained to Rosa Lee that her livestock (hogs) roamed into his section of the farm. She went to retrieve the hogs while her White neighbor attempted to rape and beat her. Three of her sons heard her cries and quickly came to the rescue. They beat and accidentally killed the White sharecropper.
After reporting the attempted rape to the police, the four were taken to jail and tried for first degree murder. News of the Ingram story outraged the entire country. It was this outrage that prevented the Ingrams from being hung. However, it took 10 years to free Ingram and her boys despite letters to President Dwight Eisenhower by Albert Einstein and the National NAACP.
•Two other notable campaigns resulted in support for the Nixon family from the Courier with a check to the wife of lynching victim, Mrs. Nixon by Mrs. Jessie Vann. Another campaign came as a result of a young Ohio girl who required an oxygen tank every day of her life which cost $8.49.
•The murder of 15-year-old Emmett Till from Chicago in Greenville, Miss., for allegedly whistling at a White woman inside a country store shocked the entire country. As a result of the Courier coverage of the slain youth, all Americans became outraged after the two men who murdered Till were set free.
•1957 free e
lections in Ghana, Africa, appeared as part of a new worldwide movement to escape British and French colonial rule. The movement took shape during the same time as the new Civil Rights Movement began to enjoy the support of Freedom Riders in the South. The Courier allowed African-Americans to see, for the first time since the African slave trade, themselves as part of Africa as they sought the same kind of freedom from oppression they were experiencing.
One hundred years of alternatives
Perhaps one of the reoccurring achievements of the Pittsburgh Courier came as a result of many powerful schools of thought and/or alternatives offered to Black Americans from the birth of the Courier to today. A few:
•Booker T. Washington vs. the W.E.B Du Bois school of thought;
•Marcus Garvey’s Back to Africa Movement of the 1920s;
•Communist and socialist forms of governments in Cuba and Russia;
•Integration at all costs;
•Revolutionary actions to overthrow the American government;
•Education as the key to freedom, and
•The Black pride movement.
(John Brewer is a Black historian.)