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T. Thomas Fortune, the Afro-American Agitator

A Collection of Writings, 1880-1928

Edited by Shawn Leigh Alexander

Publication Year: 2008

Born into slavery, T. Thomas Fortune was known as the dean of African American journalism by the time of his death in the early twentieth century. The editorship of three prominent black newspapers--the New York Globe, New York Freeman, and New York Age--provided Fortune with a platform to speak against racism and injustice.

For nearly five decades his was one of the most powerful voices in the press. Contemporaries such as Ida B. Wells, W.E.B. Du Bois, and Booker T. Washington considered him an equal, if not a superior, in social and political thought. Today's histories often pass over his writings, in part because they are so voluminous and have rarely been reprinted. Shawn Leigh Alexander's anthology will go a long way toward rectifying that situation, demonstrating the breadth of Fortune's contribution to black political thought at a key period in American history.

Published by: University Press of Florida

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

In the process of anthologizing T. Thomas Fortune’s work, I have accrued a number of debts. My thanks to Ernest Allen Jr. and John H. Bracey Jr. for encouraging me to collect Fortune’s writings in the first place and for their sage advice and counsel along the...

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T. Thomas Fortune the Afro-American Agitator: A Collection of Writings, 1880–1928

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pp. xi-xxxviii

The radical journalist Timothy Thomas Fortune was one of the leading voices of black America from 1880 to 1928, a period of American history marked by tremendous growth and expansion for the nation as a whole. For African Americans, though, it was...

Brief Chronology of T. Thomas Fortune’s Life

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pp. xxxix-xli


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pp. xlii-xliii

Part 1. Politics, Economics, and Education

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pp. 1

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1. Who Will Own the Soil of the South in the Future

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pp. 3-5

In an editorial entitled “Who Will Own the Soil of the South in the Future,” published in both the Christian Recorder and the Globe, Fortune sets forth a position on landownership that he would further develop in Black and....

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2. Status of the Race

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pp. 6-14

On September 17, 1883, Fortune was called before Senator Henry W. Blair’s Committee on Education and Labor to present his facts and opinions on the “status of the race.” In his testimony one can find many of the themes...

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3. The Civil Rights Decision

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pp. 15-17

On October 16, 1883, the Supreme Court ruled the Civil Rights Act of 1875 unconstitutional. Although the Act was never fully enforced, it protected all Americans, regardless of race, in their access to public accommodations and...

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4. Between Two Fires

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pp. 18-23

In his “Between Two Fires” editorial, Fortune continued his assault on the Supreme Court decision in the Civil Rights Cases and his assertion that it was time for the African American community to demand that the Republican...

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5. A New Party/But It Will Be!

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pp. 24-26

In “A New Party” and “But It Will Be!”—editorials written while finishing Black and White,—Fortune demonstrates his growing belief that the conditions of workers, black and white, are the same and, consequently, so is their cause. He calls for workers “of the South, the North and the West” to create...

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6. The Negro in Politics

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pp. 27-73

Fortune’s 1886 pamphlet The Negro in Politics is a strong condemnation of the Republican Party and a grand promotion of his “Race first; then party” philosophy. He assailed Frederick Douglass and others who called for sentimental///

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7. Negrowump

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pp. 74-84

In his important address for the twenty-third anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, Fortune took the opportunity to continue his push for independence in politics and for his “Race first” philosophy. Given in...

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8. The Kind of Education the Afro-American Most Needs

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pp. 85-91

In his article “The Kind of Education the Afro-American Most Needs,” published in Hampton Institute’s Southern Workman, Fortune emphasizes the importance of industrial education. This idea was promoted by schools such as Hampton and Booker T. Washington’s Tuskegee Institute and by Fortune...

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9. The Negro’s Place in American Life at the Present Day

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pp. 92-103

In his essay “The Negro’s Place in American Life at the Present Day,” written for the Booker T. Washington–edited The Negro Problem, Fortune summarizes the situation in which the African American community finds themselves, discussing the loss of rights, disfranchisement, and industrial...

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10. The Voteless Citizen

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pp. 104-110

In the following essay Fortune discusses the consequences of the disfranchisement of the African American population and calls upon the community to fight for their right to vote and for all their rights “securely anchored...

Part 2. Civil Rights and Race Leadership

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pp. 113

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11. The Virtue Of Agitation

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pp. 115-117

In his editorial, “The Virtue of Agitation,” written in August 1883, Fortune calls upon the race to demonstrate that they are willing to fight for their rights. It is important to note that the editorial was written a few months before...

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12. Civil Rights and Social Privileges

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pp. 118-133

“Civil Rights and Social Privileges” is an excellent example of Fortune’s strength as an essayist. In this article he urges the community to develop the “dynamitic element” and agitate for their civil rights, which, according to Fortune, “are all such as affect the whole people, and are regulated by them...

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13. Afro-American League Convention Speech

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pp. 134-152

The following is the address Fortune gave before the inaugural convention of the Afro-American League in Chicago on January 25, 1890. The league was the nation’s first national civil rights organization and a group whose creation Fortune had called for since 1884. In the speech he outlines the...

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14. Are We Brave Men or Cowards?

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pp. 153-157

Written for the short-lived Monthly Review, edited by Charles Alexander, this essay is Fortune’s strong condemnation of the race for failing to support the Afro-American League in particular and, more generally, to...

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15. Mob Law in the South

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pp. 158-164

In the summer of 1897, Fortune wrote “Mob Law in the South” for the Independent, appealing to the nation for assistance in ending the brutal acts of lynching. He extols the actions of Ida B. Wells-Barnett and her internationalization of the issue—an act he supported early on as he and the Afro-...

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16. Immorality of Southern Suffrage Legislation

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pp. 165-170

In the following piece, written for the Independent, Fortune outlines the argument against the southern states’ disfranchisement legislation. Beginning in 1890 with Mississippi, the southern governments began rewriting their...

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17. False Theory of Education Cause of Race Demoralization

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pp. 171-179

In this July 1904 essay, Fortune calls attention to the fact that there are educated men who “have been saturated with the notion that their paramount mission in life is to lift up the race.” This, according to Fortune, has created...

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18. Failure of the Afro-American People to Organize

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pp. 180-183

In this 1906 editorial, Fortune reflects on the attempts of the race to organize civil rights organizations. He examines his own efforts to create the Afro-American League and the efforts of those individuals who had tried to...

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19. The Breath of Agitation Is Life

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pp. 184-191

In this 1914 article for the AME Church Review, Fortune reflects on the work of race organizations and the value of agitation. He believes that the “breath of agitation is life” and that it should be advocated, but at the same time he believes that those who are not directly involved in agitation should not be...

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20. The Quick and the Dead

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pp. 192-200

Written in 1916, “The Quick and the Dead” is an interesting piece in which Fortune tries to cement his place in African American history. Written in response to George Forbes’ article and the Review’s own editorial on the passing of Booker T. Washington, Fortune asserts that he and not Washington...

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21. A Man without a Country

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pp. 201-202

In this 1926 editorial, Fortune makes it clear that while the goal of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) and Marcus Garvey may be the redemption of Africa, the race throughout the diaspora must fight...

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22. Segregation and Neighborhood Agreements

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pp. 203-206

In this editorial, Fortune acknowledges that the Supreme Court’s decision in Corrigan v. Buckley, in which the Court upheld the practice of restrictive covenants, and the recent race riots and denial of African Americans’ rights in Arkansas and Michigan are signs that African American social...

Part 3. Race and the Color Line

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pp. 207

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23. John Brown and Nat. Turner

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pp. 209-211

The following two editorials are Fortune’s side of a debate with Frederick Douglass Jr. over the need for African Americans to erect a monument in honor of John Brown. While Fortune sees the necessity of honoring Brown...

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24. The Color Line

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pp. 212-214

In this early editorial, the young Fortune responds forcefully to the New York Sun’s critical comments about the way in which the African American community separate themselves from the white community or draw the color...

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25. The Afro-American

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pp. 215-220

In his 1890 article “The Afro-American,” Fortune explains his use of the term “Afro-American,” which, he explains, includes anyone of African origin who is “not ashamed of his race,” over “Negro” or “colored” as a designation for the race. The purpose of writing the article was to respond to...

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26. Whose Problem Is This?

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pp. 221-229

In this 1894 essay for the AME Church Review, Fortune outlines the racial situation of the day. He does not see the problem as being substantially different from those that faced the country before the Civil War. These issues, argues...

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27. The Latest Color Line

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pp. 230-236

In this essay, published both in the New York Sun and the Liberia Bulletin, Fortune takes issue with those who seem, according to him, to be attempting to create a color caste system in the United States. Fortune begins his critique..

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28. Race Absorption

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pp. 237-247

In his 1901 essay “Race Absorption,” Fortune puts forth his belief that the race problem will ultimately be solved by the absorption of the black population into the “American race.” According to Fortune this process has already...

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29. Who Are We? Afro-Americans, Colored People or Negroes?

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pp. 248-252

In this article Fortune challenges the notion that African Americans can or should be known as anything other than Afro-American. Written in response to Professor J.W.E. Bowen’s assertion that “Negro” is the proper nomenclature for African Americans, Fortune argues that the race...

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30. We Must Make Literature to Make Public Opinion

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pp. 253-254

In this 1924 editorial Fortune aligns himself with others during the Harlem Renaissance, calling on African Americans “to make our own literature” and to “write the story ourselves...

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31. Separate the Douglass and Lincoln Birthdays

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pp. 255-256

Never an avid fan of Abraham Lincoln, in this 1928 editorial Fortune calls on the community to end the practice of celebrating the lives of both Lincoln and Douglass during Negro History Week. “Douglass belongs to us,” Fortune proclaims. The race, he argues, should leave Mr. Lincoln to the whites...

Part 4. Africa, Emigration, and Colonialism

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pp. 257

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32. The World in Africa

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pp. 259-260

Fortune often expressed his support for African insurrection. In this 1885 editorial he encourages the El Mahdi forces in their resistance against British occupation. This editorial is not only a strong statement of support for the Sudanese fight for independence; it is also a staunch condemnation...

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33. An African Empire

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pp. 261-263

In this 1887 editorial on European colonization of Africa, Fortune predicts the creation of an “African Empire,” an “African Confederation, not unlike that of Germany.” He argues that Europeans may have their way on the continent for the time being, but “in the course of time, the people will...

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34. Will the Afro-American Return to Africa?

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pp. 264-270

African Americans had at various times debated the idea of emigration outside of the United States, especially in the 1850s and the 1890s. Although Fortune was a supporter of African independence, he did not believe African...

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35. The Nationalization of Africa

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pp. 271-280

Fortune delivered the following address before the Congress on Africa, held under the auspices of the Stewart Missionary Foundation for Africa of Gammon Theological Seminary, December 13–15, 1895. The general purpose of the conference was to promote interest among African Americans...

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pp. 281-282

Who refused to hold up his hands? Who refused his wiser youthful leadership? Who withheld the money and bread and clothes due him and his suffering family? We did. Shall we crucify him today for his venality, his weakness, his unbridled passions, his tottering over-aged manhood? No, rather let...

Selected Bibliography of Fortune’s Writings

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pp. 283-286

Selected Bibliography for Further Reading

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pp. 287-290


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pp. 291-294

About the Author, Further Reading

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pp. 295

E-ISBN-13: 9780813045948
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813032320
Print-ISBN-10: 0813032326

Page Count: 342
Publication Year: 2008

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • African Americans -- Politics and government -- 19th century.
  • African Americans -- Politics and government -- 20th century.
  • African Americans -- Civil rights -- History.
  • African Americans -- Social conditions -- To 1964.
  • Racism -- United States -- History.
  • Social justice -- United States -- History.
  • United States -- Race relations.
  • Southern States -- Race relations.
  • Reconstruction (U.S. history, 1865-1877).
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