Soon after the Plessy decision, many African Americans living in the south became disenchanted with their quality of life. To escape the gloom and doom of the Jim Crow south, many of them headed north and west on the first thing smoking. They were in search of paying jobs, better housing, and schools for their children. So they headed out on a one-way ticket. For those who could not afford the fare, they just packed their things and headed out.
While in his early teens, Curtis’ younger brother Amos moved to Philadelphia, Pa. Like many southern African American migrates, he was able to obtain shelter in a rooming house, and employment.
Eventually his older sister, Lucy Gattison joined him when she made the trip with her daughter Betsy and Betsy’s husband Nathan Sellers, Sr. and their young son Nathan Jr. Curtis and Mariah’s first born, Christine Whitley would start her nursing career there. Two of Mariah’s sisters Bertha Roberts and Fannie Mae Lee would also move to Philadelphia. Mariah’s older sister Olive, moved to New York and moved permanently out of their lives after she decided to pass for white. Mariah’s younger brother, Nobie also moved to New York with his wife Eliza. Sister Nellie remained in Society Hill, S.C.
Many African Americans from Society Hill, SC found their way to New York with the assistance of Queen Esther Campbell. Queen Esther and her husband Jim Campbell would secure domestic jobs for young African American women from Society Hill, SC. They would also transport these young ladies to New York by car and find them shelter in rooming houses.
Queen Esther was not the only source for employment and housing in the north. Most African Americans were able to secure housing and employment through African American newspapers.
John Russwurm along with a minister by the name of Samuel Cornish established the first African American newspaper, the Freedom’s Journal in 1827 in New York City. Two years later the printing presses stopped for the Freedom’s Journal when Cornish and Russwurm had a disagreement.
The demise of the Freedom’s Journal opened the door for the North Star whose publisher was Frederick Douglas. The black newspapers were circulated in both the north and the south. The papers informed and lifted the moral of the African American community.
Ida B. Wells was one of the publishers in the south. However, when she published an article pertaining to the lynching in the south, the building that housed her printing press was burned to the ground. Fortunately, Wells was in New York on business and she remained there for thirty years.
Robert S. Abbott, a graduate of Hampton Institute established the Chicago Defender when he was unable to find a job as a printer.
Emulating his role model Frederick Douglas, John J. Neimore established the California Eagle in 1879. In 1912, a gravely ill Neimore turned the paper over to a young Charlotta Bass who ran the paper for another forty years. During these forty years Charlotta Bass would emerge as the number one leader in the African American community of Los Angeles. She would also become the first African American to run for the Vice President of the United States under the Progressive Party.
Robert Van a lawyer established the Pittsburgh Courier after World War I. Through the Pittsburgh Courier Van was responsible for African Americans switching from the Republican Party to the Democratic Party. A gratefully newly Presidential elect Franklin Delano Roosevelt rewarded Van by appointing him as the assistant Attorney General of the United States.
There was a big demand for black newspapers throughout the country. The papers encouraged migration by assisting African Americans in securing housing as well as employment in their new domicile. The southern white planters were not happy about the diminishing labor pool brought about by the migration. Therefore they implemented laws prohibiting their distribution in the south. They soon learned that their laws could not stop the distribution of the papers. The publishers turned to the Pullman porters for distribution. The porters would throw the papers out to some undisclosed location before the train would pull into town. From there the individuals collecting the papers would distribute the paper in an underground fashion.
Because the black newspaper business was a very profitable business, black newspapers began to spring up all over the country. Each and every one of these newspapers collectively humanized a black race and cultivated a black culture economically and politically.
The above clip was narrated by NPR’s Michel Martin.
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