- T. Thomas Fortune, the Afro-American Agitator: A Collection of Writings, 1880-1928
Edited by Shawn Alexander, T. Thomas Fortune, the Afro-American Agitator provides scholars, students, and enthusiasts of African American history with the independent voice of an active, innovative, and uncompromising champion of civil rights who influenced a generation of African American political, social, and economic thought and activism. This anthology belongs in library collections and on the shelves of African American historians and historians of American journalism. Both researcher and teacher should find the work useful and necessary for understanding the initial and formative African American responses to the violence and discrimination that were ushered by the demise of Reconstruction and the rise of Jim Crow, a period African American scholars refer to as "the nadir." During this period, African American leaders responded with an array of often conflicting intellectual and ideological constructs to combat the denial of first-class citizenship and racial restraints that white America placed on the social and economic rights of black America.
As a journalist, as Alexander notes, Fortune understood the power of the press as a tool to advocate his causes and reach a wide audience. Considered radical and militant by contemporaries and historians, Fortune wrote signed and unsigned editorials for leading African American periodicals, including the New York Globe, Philadelphia Tribune, AME Church Review, Christian Recorder, Colored American Magazine, Norfolk Journal and Guide, and Amsterdam News. Fortune founded the New York Freeman and subsequently the New York Age in 1884, and both papers are fountains of primary source materials for the radical stance that various African American leaders assumed. Fortune also contributed to white newspapers such as the New York Times, Boston Globe, Washington Post, Atlantic Constitution, and Los Angeles Times. Alexander draws from many of these publications and more to assemble this collection. The collection fits well with other recent anthologies such as Social Protest Thought in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, 1862-1939 (2000), edited by Stephen Angell and Anthony Pinn, and Women's Work: An Anthology of [End Page 284] African-American Women's Historical Writings from Antebellum America to the Harlem Renaissance (2010), edited by Laurie F. Maffly-Kipp and Kathryn Lofton. Anthologies such as these give scholars new voices in the African American struggle to attain civil and economic rights at the turn of the twentieth century.
Divided into an introduction, a timeline of Fortune's life, four sections that examine specific topics, and selected bibliographies, the collection encompasses a span of writing focused on what Fortune saw as the most important national and international racial issues of the day. In the introductory and biographical essay that briefly examines Fortune's career, Alexander correctly maintains that "historians have often neglected T. Thomas Fortune's importance . . . in favor of individuals such as Ida B. Wells, Booker T. Washington, Marcus Garvey, and W. E. B. Du Bois" (xi). Alexander insists that by not examining the works of Fortune, historians have "missed the strength that Fortune's peers recognized" (xi). Part of that strength is evident in his unceasing call for African Americans to agitate.
Fortune expressed "strong positions and unorthodox political views, including support for race pride, black political and economic power, black self-reliance, and political and civil agitation, and . . . an independent position in national politics" (xvii). Such stances complicate African American thought and allowed Fortune to maintain a friendship with Washington, share political ideology with Du Bois and Wells, and edit the weekly Negro World for Marcus Garvey. Alexander also shows that Fortune was a person who put his words into action by helping to establish several civil rights organizations, notably the Afro-American League in 1890 and the Afro-American Council in 1898. He also helped Washington form the National Negro Business League in 1900. In his analysis, Alexander describes Fortune as "invariably a race man, who advocated race pride, unity, and solidarity" (xxi).
The four main parts of the collection cover a wide range of issues...