TIMOTHY THOMAS FORTUNE
T. Thomas Fortune was an influential journalist and agitator who constantly fought for the fullest implementation of the 14th and 15th amendments.
Bom in 1856 in Marianna, Florida, For¬ tune grew up while African-Americans were striving hardest for the civil rights promised after the Civil War. His father had been a slave, but the Emancipation Proclamation made it possible for him to join the Florida legislature. His political influence made him a target for white Southerners who wished to cripple the Reconstruction, and Fortune’s family finally moved to Jacksonville to avoid vio¬ lent Ku Klux Klan threats.
T. Thomas Fortune was educated at Freedman’s Bureau schools, and became a printer before studying law briefly at Howard University. He moved to New York in 1879, and was hired as a printer for the Rumor. By 1881, the year the Rumor had progressed into the Globe, Fortune had become editor and part-owner.
In 1884, Fortune bought his own newspa¬ per, the New York Freeman, which became the New York Age in 1887. In the same year, his Black and White: Land, Labor and Poli¬ tics in the South was published. It was a piece dedicated to Fortune’s tme passion: the unification of black and white forces for the civil rights—especially the right to vote — of all Americans, and particularly African-Americans.
His views were further articulated during an important meeting of the National Afro- American League (NAAL) in 1890. The 147 representatives from 21 states heard Fortune detail the battle still in progress: “As the agitation which culminated in the abolition of African slavery in this country covered a period of 50 years, so may we expect that before the rights conferred upon us by the war amendments are fully con¬ ceded, a full century will have passed away.
We have undertaken no child’s play. We have undertaken a serious work which will tax and exhaust the best intelligence and energy of the race for the next century….”
Fortune’s newspaper became a place for the open discussion of ideals held by men like Booker T. Washington (see no. 24). Known for its militancy and its unwavering support of society’s underprivileged class¬ es, the Age was a powerful forum for Wash¬ ington and his supporters against the sepa¬ ratist politics of W.E.B. Du Bois (see no. 32) and others.
Fortune remained a writer even after he sold his paper in 1907. From then until 1919, he wrote for the Norfolk Journal, and in 1923, he became a controversial figure once again when he became the editor of Marcus Garvey’s Negro World (see no. 46). Garvey, called “the most dangerous enemy of the Negro people” by W.E.B. Du Bois for his “Back to Africa” policy, gave Fortune his last opportunity to shape public opinion, inspire debate and broaden future possibilities for all Americans.