In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • “Out of the business once established could grow various enterprises”: W. E. B. Du Bois and the Ed. L. Simon & Co. Printers
  • Elizabeth McHenry (bio)

Sometime in the summer or early fall of 1903, W. E. B. Du Bois quietly purchased a printing business at 163 Beale Street in Memphis, Tennessee.1 He did not live or work in Memphis, nor did he have experience in or knowledge of the business of printing. In theory, there were printing offices in Atlanta that were accessible to Du Bois, and as a professor of Sociology at Atlanta University, he also would have had some access to the university’s Printing Office. Described in the Catalogue of Atlanta University for 1901–1902 as “large and well appointed,” the Printing Office was used as a place of instruction where students learned the printing trade by working on publications for both the school and the larger Atlanta Community. It was where two monthly newspapers were published: The Bulletin of Atlanta University and a student newspaper called THE SCROLL. In addition, it housed Atlanta University Press, which, beginning in 1896, had produced the proceedings of the annual Conference for the Study of Negro Problems as well as related publications.2 And yet Du Bois invested his entire life savings—some $1,600—in the Memphis print business, entering into a partnership with two young recent graduates of Atlanta University who had been his students. Unlike Du Bois, both of these men knew the business of printing: Harry H. Pace had learned the printer’s trade as a youth, and Edward L. Simon worked as an instructor in the Print Department at Le Moyne Institute in Memphis after his graduation from Atlanta University. In this, Du Bois was the outsider of the group. And yet, he was the driving force behind the venture, which promised him something he did not have but felt he sorely needed: ready access to and control over a printing press.

This printing office became the home of the Moon Illustrated Weekly, a publication Du Bois envisioned as circulating among African Americans to “tell them of the deeds of themselves + their neighbors, interpret the news of the world to them + inspire them toward definite ideals.”3 In reality, the [End Page 405] Moon was a modest, essentially local newspaper and it, together with the relatively small journal that followed it, the Horizon, have been considered mere footnotes in Du Bois’s long and illustrative career as an educator, an activist, a journalist, and a critical thinker. To the extent that it has been studied, the Moon in particular has become known as Du Bois’s most spectacular failure. This was the determination of historian Paul Parrington, whose investigative study of the Moon Illustrated Weekly was published alongside the three surviving issues of the newspaper in 1986. The Moon “failed before it began,” Parrington concluded, calling the journal “a dream which was not to be realized until 1918 when the circulation of the Crisis reached 100,000.”4 In some respects, this view accurately sums up the life of the paper: Du Bois could not find financial support for the publication, he was inaccurate about the circulation numbers that could be achieved; and the Moon was never, in any practical sense, an “illustrated weekly.”5

But the Moon is only one aspect of the venture that Du Bois entered when he invested in the Memphis printing business. Rather than focusing on the failings of the Moon Illustrated Weekly, this essay takes up the larger subject of Du Bois’s printing office, the Ed. L. Simon & Co. In doing so, I am attempting to divert our focus from the demise of one small newspaper to the more significant story of a small African American printing business. These stories are, of course, entangled, but focusing only on the shortcomings of the Moon detracts from our appreciation of Du Bois’s larger objectives in purchasing a printing business and the importance of the business itself. What he sought to do with that business, I argue, will draw our attention to areas of Black print culture studies that remain unexplored: the business of printing, the history of Black...


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pp. 405-450
Launched on MUSE
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