tv Newspaper of Record PBS August 18, 2010 3:30am-4:30am PST
[typewriter clacking] >> the courier was the black national newspaper. it was the most respected by both white and black. >> pittsburgh courier, in a sense then, was sort of in a class by itself. it's very different from the other national african-american newspapers. it was sui generis, very special, very different, and very important. [typewriter clacking] >> the courier was one of the best things that could have ever happened to the black race.
>> the people who were involved in the courier, and not only the higher-ups who made the paper possible but the writers, the reporters, the runners, they were all very, very sweet, decent, highly professional people, and what they did was run a national paper. >> ♪ pittsburgh ♪ is my city >> it is indeed a privilege and a delight to be standing here on what i consider hallowed ground, because this is where the old pittsburgh courier stood. >> female narrator: on a september day in 2004, a group of people gathered in pittsburgh to dedicate a historical marker for the pittsburgh courier.
>> and when you came upstairs-- and there was the editorial department, with the greatest collection of characters that anyone would encounter anywhere. >> and we used to come down the street to the end of the street and sit on the steps of the ymca and look across the street in this building. the courier building had huge glass panes, and you could see inside, and they had these big, frightening machines that were constantly rolling and spinning and had these men who had hats made of newspaper, and i always wanted to have--to know how to make a hat made out of newspaper. eventually, when i got old enough, i became a newspaper boy selling the courier. now, for those of you who might doubt that, i'll give
you proof that i was a pittsburgh courier newspaper boy. ♪ pittsburgh courier ♪ ♪ pittsburgh courier ♪ courier, mister? courier, miss? courier? courier? ♪ pittsburgh ♪ don't have the blues. read the news. ♪ pittsburgh courier ♪ is that authentic? [cheers and applause] that's the way we did it. >> narrator: the pittsburgh courier was one of the hundreds of black newspapers that were started in the early 20th century. at the time, pittsburgh was the industrial heart of america with a large, dynamic black population. the courier was founded in 1907 by edward nathaniel harleston, who worked as a guard at the h.j. heinz food plant.
at first it was mostly an outlet for his poems and personal writings. in 1909, he decided to look for financial backers, and in 1910, he approached a lawyer to incorporate the paper. the lawyer was robert l. vann. >> robert vann was an extraordinary man, came from a very poor background, had to struggle to educate himself but was able to become a lawyer. he finished college, became a lawyer, and also became very quickly attuned to the importance of politics and understanding the nexus of which politics and communications fit together. >> narrator: the courier began to evolve into a true newspaper beyond the ambitions of its founder, edward nathaniel harleston. he left the courier in 1913. the board chose robert l. vann
to be the new editor. in the 1920s, the courier began publishing articles by leading writers and thinkers with various opinions on major issues, people like george s. schuyler, who was one of the important creative writers of the harlem renaissance, wrote a regular column for the courier. >> vann paid a very, very little amount to the people who were writing. it wasn't a time where you could make a lot of money writing, but they would--whatever they could get, they got. that was it. >> narrator: the courier also had articles by white scholars like franz boas. >> franz boas is considered the father of american anthropology. he really critiqued earlier notions of social darwinism. he says we cannot look at people in terms of a racial hierarchy.
he said we had to look at them on an even plane and look at individual people and culture, and for african americans, this was new. this was a new philosophy in saying, "hey, science, for the first time, literally the first time, is saying we're not inferior. we are equal." what the pittsburgh courier did was excerpt, or sort of re-publish, many of these scientific pieces that boas produced and published in scientific journals as well as sort of other magazines, so they actually published the statistics of the head sizes and all that sort of stuff, where boas did the original research to sort of destroy fallacious understandings of negro inferiority. i could say that the pittsburgh courier was one of the few newspapers that articulated this cutting-edge science to the masses in the barbershops, in the beauty shops, and around. >> narrator: these articles boosted african-american pride
and the circulation of the pittsburgh courier, but robert l. vann did not stop there. >> the campaigns were the lifeblood of the courier, see, because you only come out once a week, and writing about something that happened on last saturday, and you don't come out till the following thursday, is not really news unless you get the story behind the story, but a campaign goes on for weeks at a time, and those campaigns affect all of the people. they started a campaign to get african-americans into major league sports, integrate the armed services, and then fair housing, fair employment, and all that. the courier did it every, every week. what i give the courier credit for was, they were always in the forefront fighting for civil rights. the other papers would follow us, but they didn't initiate it. for instance, we didn't have to follow the defender or the
afro-american or the norfolk journal and guide. they followed us. >> narrator: robert l. vann turned the pittsburgh courier into a crusader for african-americans, and one of its greatest crusades focused on a deadly secret of the american south, lynching. >> in my lifetime, there were black men and women being lynched all over this nation, and some even burned alive. we could not afford to sit still, keep still, and let that continue to happen. in fact, we had to report it so that everyone would know the truth. >> the courier had one man in the south who was their key person, trezzvant anderson, who traveled about--must have been foot-sore and fatigued, but a marvelous reporter who covered major stories, and then others, some white, whom it employed as freelancers to cover stories
that we couldn't get into. i mean, white man got some information on lynching the black reporter might not have been able--couldn't have gotten, because they wouldn't have let him in. >> i started writing for the pittsburgh courier in the 1940s, and the reason i did so is that, of course, racism was rampant, not only in my hometown and state and region but throughout america, and needless to say, the white press was not all that receptive to my point of view, a non-prejudiced point of view, so that you might say i was obliged to address myself to the black press. you know, i was living and operating in klan country. it was not healthy for a white person to be writing what i was writing about. when i first started writing to the courier, i used my first name, which no one knew, "william." i'd never used it anywhere else, but then, a bit later, i started signing my pieces "snow james." snow james was a folk hero out
of southern black folk culture, and having a white reporter enter into, not just as far as-- the klan is the ultimate example that--there's no way a black could infiltrate the klan. >> what people don't understand is that lynching dominated life in the south. black people could be dragged from their homes, off the street, anywhere, with no good reason, not having done anything bad, and lynched and sometimes burned alive while white people stood around and enjoyed it. there are pictures of them laughing and acting like they're at a picnic seeing black people brutalized in such a fashion. >> narrator: the courier held a spotlight on the dark secret
crime of lynching for all americans to see. lynching and related stories were front-page news. federal officials finally stepped in due in large part to the public pressure for justice created by the courier. >> i covered the last lynching in three states, north carolina, south carolina, and georgia. the north carolina one was in smithfield, north carolina. a black was accused of stealing some hound dogs, and when he was discovered with the dogs, a posse was developed, and the interesting thing about it was that they allowed the youngest one in the posse the honor of shooting the black person who was accused of taking the dogs. in south carolina, the will earl case--will earl was a
young black. 31 taxicab drivers took him out and lynched him. montgomery county, georgia, isaiah nixon was accused of voting a--voting registration, getting blacks signed up to vote, and they-- a mob went to his home and asked his wife where he was, and she said, "he's in the house." and she said--the mob said, "tell him to come out." and as soon as he got out and got on the ground, they shot him dead. and she said it was in the presence of his children, and they scattered like a covey of birds. >> narrator: these articles boosted the circulation of the pittsburgh courier. >> 14 editions across the country and in the caribbean,
africa, england, and a few in hawaii. 14 editions, 400,000 papers a week, and employing about 350 people. >> narrator: producing a national newspaper with 14 editions kept the courier staff and facilities busy every day around the clock. >> each one of those editions had a--what we call an edition editor in the main office. i had charge of the chicago and detroit editions for a while. all the copy from those two cities--the editors from those desks out there would send their copy to me. they worked with me, and i put their paper together. [typewriters clacking] >> narrator: stories from around the country came into the courier by telephone, telegraph, and through the mail. the stories were polished and proofed and then turned over to the editors, who decided which stories would make it into the
paper. the pages were turned into printing plates on huge linotype machines in the courier's own printing plant. photos were carefully chosen and added to the layout. when all was ready, the big presses would roll. >> the first editions to go out would be the pacific coast, 'cause it was the farthest away, and then it was followed by the new york and detroit editions, then philadelphia and washington d.c. edition, then texas and the southwest and southern editions, and each one had its own time limit. the first four pages belonged to that particular community, detroit, philadelphia, new york. now the editions themselves would have on the masthead "pittsburgh courier," then, right over that would be "detroit edition," "new york edition," or "philadelphia edition."
>> young people wanted to be an agent for the courier, or even older people wanted to be an agent for the courier, because they could make money by selling the courier. the courier cost 10¢. they would make 2¢ of that 10. >> when i started delivering the pittsburgh courier, i was perhaps 12 years old. i would get maybe around 100 a week shipped down from pittsburgh to tulsa, oklahoma, where i was growing up. the black community in tulsa, oklahoma, was like a cocoon. you didn't--you had very little contact with white people. they wouldn't even hire black boys to deliver the daily paper. so it was the courier that i could deliver but not the tulsa tribune, not the tulsa daily world. no, that was off-limits to any young black boy growing up in tulsa in the late '20s and '30s. >> up north, we had our regular newsstands and news spots for them. in the south, of course, as soon as the papers would arrive on a landing dock or something of
that nature, the sheriffs would grab 'em and burn 'em up. we published a paper on monday and tuesday. those were the southern editions. we would publish them in the evening and get 'em down to the railroad station at night. the pullman porters would hide them in the cars, and when they would get to birmingham or chattanooga or wherever the southern stop was, they would drop the papers off, and some negro minister would pick them up and take 'em home or put 'em in his church or something until sunday. then he would get the newsboys and girls from his congregation to sell the paper, and we did that for years. >> narrator: it was important for the courier and other black papers to sell as many copies as possible. >> black publications had to rely on circulation or sales of their issues in order to make their money, because the big advertising money came from major manufacturers, major
department stores, the big supermarkets. none of them would advertise with a black publication. >> as a result, you had to take the cheap or the frivolous advertising, which the company like ziff in new york sold to the black press as hair ads and sex ads and palmistry, fortune teller's ads and all that in order to make ends meet. >> another thing is that when it came to advertising products or stores, white stores didn't necessarily want black women going down and trying on their dresses, so they certainly weren't gonna put an ad in there inviting them to come down. >> narrator: but robert l. vann knew that when it came to black businesses, prejudice worked in the courier's favor. >> the courier was so important for all kind of black businesses, the stores, the photographers,
the florists, advertising for rental property, the funeral home ads, your beauty shops, anything that might pertain to helping the black man as far as where he could go and what he could buy. >> this newspaper, the pittsburgh courier, appealed to blacks all over the country. for instance, if you go in the middle of the depression where you have some figures that are actually there, you have 20,000 people reading this newspaper, 20,000 subscribers reading this newspaper in pittsburgh, and you have as many as 250,000 people reading this paper overall, which means that you had about 230,000 subscribers who were outside of pittsburgh. >> it was the new york times, if you will, this sort of--the newspaper of record. everyone looked to it. the national edition was read from coast to coast and read two or three times by individuals
such that one pittsburgh courier would be read by four or five different people, so even the circulation is skewed, because you would have to times that by five. >> narrator: wide circulation gave robert l. vann and the pittsburgh courier genuine political clout. >> it was read by all smart politicians, particularly those who happened to be running for some sort of an office in a district where there was a black population of some sort. >> narrator: robert l. vann demonstrated the power of the courier in the 1932 presidential election. for generations, most african-americans voted republican, the party of the great emancipator, abraham lincoln, but as the 20th century wore on, the great depression gripped the nation. robert l. vann saw the need for change. >> they had this big political
convention, political thing for franklin d. roosevelt, and-- because he was gonna be running for president against the republican candidate at the time, hoover, and so mr. vann got up and said, "turn the picture of lincoln to the wall." he says, "from now on, we are part of the new deal that is gonna come in," and he made this eloquent speech for franklin d. roosevelt's election. >> he gave a speech and then came out with an issue of the courier "turn lincoln's picture to the wall." this paper with this message was distributed, was hand-carried by newsboys to coal-mining camps, to factory yards, to towns in the south and to little burgs throughout the country. "turn lincoln's picture to the wall" meaning "don't vote republican. try to find--maybe the democrats
will offer us something that we can use." and so this was--began, and it did help to turn the tide, because the black vote shifted from being almost overwhelmingly republican to overwhelmingly democratic, and it remains so to this day. >> narrator: on the 24th of october, 1940, courier editor and publisher robert l. vann passed away. the newspaper he had built from his vision was left in the hands of his wife jessie and at 350 loyal courier employees. ira lewis became the new executive editor. he held this position until his death in 1948 when he was succeeded by longtime courier
staff member p.l. prattis. by this time, the courier covered stories throughout the united states and in 31 nations. >> my father traveled a great deal. one of my earliest memories of him and his travel was in 1949 when he went away for six months. he visited india, where he met with prime minister nehru and his daughter indira gandhi and many other dignitaries. he met kwame nkrumah. he then went to paris and met with many officials and dignitaries there, including the great performer josephine baker who had her own club in paris called chez josephine. the purpose of his trip was to discover how people of color were treated in other parts of the world, and i think he discovered some very interesting things about racial
differentiation and classification and how things did differ from the way they were in the united states at the time. >> narrator: the courier was now approaching its largest circulation and greatest popularity. the hub of this activity was the courier building on center avenue in pittsburgh's hill district. >> and it was an inspiring and wonderful place. everybody came to the courier office, politicians seeking the black vote, athletes, entertainers, anyone from out of town who came into pittsburgh would come to the courier. >> it was certainly an exciting job, because every day, some famous person would come up those steps and walk through the editorial room where i was working, and i would just stop and stare with great delight. intellectuals like w.e.b. du bois, langtson hughes,
thurgood marshall, walter white, a. philip randolph, marcus garvey, and mary mcleod iii. >> by being at the courier, i had a chance to have luncheon with nat king cole. >> while working at the courier, i had my picture taken with duke ellington, billy eckstine, lena horne. >> and lionel hampton and ella fitzgerald or cab calloway, marian anderson. >> joe louis, jackie robinson, jesse owens. >> satchel paige and roy campanella and many, many others. after a while, you got so used to it that you didn't look up especially, but i just remember that part of it. it was as if the whole world, and particularly the people in the black world, all walked
through the editorial rooms of the pittsburgh courier. >> narrator: celebrities shared the spotlight with the courier's own reporters. >> the courier paid better than many other black newspapers, because it was very large. it was highly successful, but the main reason they did it wasn't for the money. it was because they were stars out there. they were known. their names and pictures appeared somewhere. on a column, they had a picture of the person and the name. people knew you. you knew them. and they looked to you to take up their banner and to fight or to take up their star and to raise it up on high so people would know what they had done. >> the pittsburgh courier always had a strong sports department. football and basketball were played up heavily as well as boxing. >> narrator: at that time, the rising star of the boxing ring was the brown bomber, joe louis. >> well, joe louis, during his day, was really the black hero
as far as boxing was concerned. my father, william nunn sr., chester washington, and wendell smith covered him extensively. a lot of the times, ches and wendell spent time where joe trained right on up until the fights themselves. >> narrator: each win made joe louis even more popular with courier readers, and then he fought max baer. it was september 24, 1935. joe louis knocked out max baer, a former heavyweight champion, in only four rounds. boxing fans couldn't wait to read about it in the courier. >> chester washington and bill nunn flew back with the pictures, and we start putting 'em on the press where the pictures were put on the front page of the pittsburgh courier going out to the 13 different editions that we had at the
time, and the people from all the different parts of the country were calling in for newspapers, so we were trying to process those calls. >> narrator: the courier also covered baseball, especially the pittsburgh crawfords and the homestead grays. >> black baseball really was a big business during that era. the courier was a big part of the coverage of not only those two teams, the grays and the crawfords. they played a big role in covering national league, the entire black league as far as baseball was concerned. >> narrator: the courier followed the homestead grays and their dominance of black baseball from 1935 to the late 1940s. the courier sports pages also covered the pittsburgh crawfords. the crawfords' lineup included some of the greatest black baseball players of all time,
including satchel paige, josh gibson, "cool papa" bell, and many others. >> we had two columnists. chester washington started out, but it was primarily wendell smith who campaigned vigorously to get negros into the major leagues. he's the first negro sportswriter to be in the baseball hall of fame. finally, when jackie robinson did make it, we put wendell with jackie to live with him for a whole year. >> and wendell actually lived with jackie, traveled with jackie, and you have to realize that during that period, there were places that jackie could not go. what wendell and the courier did, they found housing for both of them in various parts of the south. >> narrator: of course, there was more to the courier than just hard news.
>> it showed black people not only as supermen and women but as ordinary people doing ordinary things, someone having a wedding, someone having a party, someone having a good time, as well as someone grieving. it showed the life of blacks in all dimensions, in all colors, and sometimes it was a lot of fun too. >> my column was funny. i made jokes about black people. take a column called "the horrors of integration," and i was reaching for some stuff, you know. "why do i want to be integrated?" and everything, and one item i made which got such a response--and it wasn't an ugly response. i thought people would resent it, but what i said, "now that we're free at last, i don't know if i will ever enjoy going into a restaurant to which i am now allowed to go and order watermelon." well, you know, i order
watermelon in a black restaurant, and i know there are still black people who are reluctant to order watermelon in a public restaurant. langston hughes started reading my column. he would write me notes all the time, and this one says, "your column this week, like gospel music, jumps." signed langston. >> narrator: finally, the courier wouldn't be complete without the comics. >> bootsie was simply a cartoon of a great, big, heavy black man who was very funny and very wise and who represented in a very real sense the humor of black people. bootsie was contained in a cartoon different each week. it related to and was understood by every black person in the world. it was their world. it was inside.
it was a portrayal of things that most people outside of our race are not aware of and not interested in. it became a household name. it was just one of the funniest cartoons in the world. >> narrator: the courier's cartoons had something for everyone. if you liked adventure, you could follow jive gray, ace reporter for a crusading african-american newspaper. bucky followed the more ordinary adventures of a youngster and his pals. a different kind of information could be found in sunny boy sam. >> sunny boy sam, drawn by a man named wilbert holloway. holloway, he was a very genial man from pittsburgh, a very sweet-tempered man, and sonny boy sam, these two brothers who came up who came up with these weird situations and had
little--funny little sayings that they would come up with. there was a humorous twist to each cartoon, but the reason why people really read them was 'cause there were numbers in them, numbers that you play-- little three-figured numbers. you'd have the numbers runner who were neighborhood characters who'd pick them up, and you'd win six dollars for a penny if you're lucky. well, there were a lot of these little three-figured numbers tucked in and written in different parts of this cartoon. and i said, "holly, where do you get those numbers?" he said, "oh, well, i just make them up, just whatever comes in my head." i said, "well, some people say those are good numbers, 'cause they hit." he said, "well, i don't know, but they just come to me." >> narrator: news, sports, and the funnies all helped to make the courier the leading black paper in america, and that leadership was about to be tested in crisis and victory. [explosion] >> when the bombs drop at pearl harbor on december 7, 1941, the
blacks, who are very patriotic and want to serve in the war, go to the enlistment stations, and they go to the marines, and they're told by the marines, "we've never had blacks. we're not interested in having blacks." they go to the coast guard, and the coast guard says, "we've never had blacks. we're not interested in having blacks." they go to the army air corps, which we now call the air force. army air corps, exact same answer. "we've never had blacks. we don't want blacks." they're just turned away. >> i went down to volunteer. and the naval recruiting officer asked me, "what can you do?" i said, "well, i can run an office. i was--i ran an office for the librarian when i was in college. i can type as well as almost anybody. i have three gold medals in typing. i can take shorthand, 135 words a minute, and i can operate
simple business machines." this is long before computers or anything anyway. "and, oh, yes, i have a phd from harvard." i was 26 years old. he said, "well, you have everything but color." i said, "well, thank you very much. i thought that there was an emergency, and i was willing to help in an emergency, but obviously, there's not, so thank you. i'm sorry to have taken up your time." and i went home, and i swore that day that i would never serve in the united states army or any part of the military service. if they were gonna make a judgment on me on the basis of my color and only on the basis of my color, if that was the only thing that kept me out of the armed services, well, it would just keep me out permanently, forever. >> immediately, the black press, including the pittsburgh
courier, complains a lot about this, and then you have another issue that comes up very quickly that the pittsburgh courier is on top of and writes a lot about: the american red cross refused to take blood from blacks. blacks had streamed into these red cross stations. they wanted to give blood, and they were told to a person, "we will not take your blood because you are a black person." well, over the next month, the pittsburgh courier and other black newspapers--but the pittsburgh courier was as big as any of these in playing up this controversy--the pittsburgh courier said, "okay, why are you doing this? type 'a' from a black person, the same as type 'a' from a white person. there is no difference, and scientific studies have proven this." as a result of that, the red cross finally gave in after a month in mid january 1942 and said, "okay, we'll take blood from blacks. we just won't give it people. we'll give it only to blacks." well, as a consequence of that,
the pittsburgh courier exploded. they continued their criticism of the american red cross, and they ran letters. this one woman wrote: >> narrator: in spite of prejudice, there were african-american heroes in world war ii right from the start, and the pittsburgh courier set out to find them. >> dorie miller, a mess sergeant, a black man--all blacks in those days were assigned to the mess halls-- was down in the bottom of the ship at the time of pearl harbor. when the bombs began to fall, he went up on the deck. the ship, the west virginia was sinking. his captain he saw laying on the deck with his leg under him, bleeding--he helped comfort the captain. he moved him off to the side. no one was there manning a gun. dorie had never fired a gun before. he picked up this gun, a 50-millimeter machine gun. he fired until the gun was out of ammunition. >> when we tried to find out his
name, the navy did not have his name. the pittsburgh courier spent $7,000 having mr. prattis, the senior editor, going around the world trying to find out who he was, and we did our level best to try to get him to get a congressional medal of honor, but in world war ii, the war department was giving no congressional medals of honor to negros, 'cause they were so bitter about us fighting for desegregation. >> narrator: frank bolden was one of the courier's accredited war correspondents. his dispatches ensured that the service of black gis would be recognized. >> june 30, 1945, pittsburgh boys enjoy happy reunion on the stillwell road. it was on this jungle supply artery that i met two old friends of mine from my hometown, staff sergeant john adams and sergeant joseph d. walker, both of pittsburgh. the 22-year-old adams is the
motor dispatcher for the unit. his commanding officer, lieutenant colonel john p. leary jr., remarked that adams was a tireless worker and was just about the best man at his job that he had ever seen. >> the article that frank wrote about me was one of the greatest morale builders that i'd ever received. you know, we used to sit around and wait for mail to come from home. it was just so nice to have a letter come to say "we read about you. keep up the good work. we're praying for you. we're looking forward to you coming home." >> narrator: black soldiers fought bravely and well, but they were aware of the irony of their situation. >> blacks have always been loyal americans. they've fought in every war this country has had. they have always been very patriotic. you can't think of a single black traitor. you can't think of one, 'cause they--considering the way they're treated, it's amazing that they love this country as much as they do, that they support it. >> during the world war ii era,
the courier launched a double-victory campaign, which meant that we wanted victory at home against racism and discrimination as well as military victory against our enemies overseas. >> the double "v" for victory campaign originated with a letter to the editor from a young cafeteria worker out in kansas by the name of james thompson who wrote us saying what a shame it was that people of color were asked to fight hitler aboard in the interest of democracy when the very soldiers that were fighting were protecting segregation and discrimination at home and that both should be eliminated, the fight against discrimination in nazi germany and here at home. the editors of the courier put
their heads together and decided to make a campaign out of this. they got their artists together, and they made a design for the double "v" so that we could make pins and posters and all that out of it. >> this campaign, at the end of six months, has 200,000 people that have signed up and sent in a nickel apiece, and they get a card saying you're a double "v" member, and they get a pin. >> there were cartoons that were presented with the two vs, and then there were--there was a song, a double "v" song. there were little slogans, and then there was a hairstyle someone came up, where women wore their hair kind--you know, upsweep with a "v." well, they had two vs to symbolize the double "v" campaign. >> you have black baseball games that are double "v" games. you have bands line up in the field in these two vs. you have women walking around with vs on their clothes. you have double-v gardens,
double-v flag-raising ceremonies, double-v beauty queens. >> and it enabled them to approach the whole task of going to war with a kind of tolerance. >> narrator: but there were some americans who didn't appreciate the courier's double-v campaign. among them was j. edgar hoover, the powerful head of the fbi. >> the double "v" for--campaign, it was so effective with edgar hoover almost persuading roosevelt to shut down the black press on the basis of sedition. the pittsburgh courier discovered that j. edgar hoover was against desegregating the armed services. he was against any promotions or any negro divisions or any units. he was dead set against it. he wanted them charged with sedition. he said they were disrupting the country at time of war and they
were out here worrying about something that they couldn't do anything about. i remember staring him in the face across the table. i called him a neanderthal psycho-ceramic, a natural crackpot. >> narrator: african-american units, like the 93rd infantry and the 99th pursuit squadron, once again demonstrated the courage and the skill of black soldiers, and the pittsburgh courier was there. >> i was present the morning those big bombers were gonna take off for berlin the first time. the left escort wing couldn't make it, 'cause they got measles, and they were confined to their quarters way across the yard there. the only available unit were the black tuskegee fliers. those white fliers from texas and georgia--"uh-uh, we ain't letting no niggers fly with us." hap arnold had to send word from washington d.c., "take 'em." all ben davis said to those black fliers that morning was,
"men, this is it." they flew that mission, and boy, oh, boy, did they fly it. >> narrator: this, plus the mounting public pressure of the courier's double-v campaign led president harry truman to desegregate the armed forces. >> in my opinion, the double-victory campaign was the most important campaign the courier ever conducted, unless we also want to include the fight to desegregate the armed services. after that, things fell into place so that, in fact, when the civil rights movement of the '60s began, there was a well-laid foundation, and that was the work of the pittsburgh courier. >> pittsburgh courier was the biggest black newspaper in world war ii. it was clearly the most influential. the--as a result--and it had a circulation of around 350,000 by the end of the war, which made
it the largest black newspaper in history. as a result, it pushed for a lot of black inequalities to be done away with in world war ii. it was highly successful in pushing for a lot of these things to be done away with. it had taken the blacks to a certain point where the civil rights movement picked them up and took them to far greater heights than they had ever been before. the pittsburgh courier deserves everlasting praise for getting blacks to a certain level where the civil rights movement could take off. if you had not had the pittsburgh courier and the push that it had, the civil rights movement would have started at a far lower level. >> narrator: victory overseas came in 1945. now the courier could focus on the other "v," the victory over racism at home. >> ♪ who shall make us free? >> narrator: now that struggle was coming to a boil. >> black people were thrilled at
the civil rights movement and what it brought. i can remember being a tenderfoot in the courier newsroom. it even might have been in the summer when i was still in school and just working there writing obituaries or retyping notes from aniston, alabama, and way across georgia. that was one of my main jobs, typing up the stuff that was handwritten, sent in from people in the south, but i would call william g. nunn, the great editor, saying, "you know, there's a very outstanding young man down there in alabama, martin luther king jr. now, that young man is someone we ought to keep an eye on." and it was the beginning of the bus boycott, and king was just emerging, and so there was excitement. this was something special. this was something that required great nerve. >> narrator: the courier tackled this story with the same energy
and zeal it had shown with the double-v campaign. >> on my first trip to montgomery, i had just arrived, had signed into this hotel and went to my room, had not unpacked when i heard a bomb. so i dropped my luggage, ran out. i saw the house was smoking. dr. king was on the porch, and in front of the house there, between 50 and 100 people had gathered, and i just walked over and joined the group and listened to dr. king, and the group standing there were ready to go to war for their man in that they carried--some had weapons. some had pipes. some had bottles.
some had rocks. they had all of these weapons. they were gonna listen to dr. king and then go out and start a war. that was in everybody's head, i believe, and i just stood there awed, frightened, not believing what i was seeing, and dr. king was saying--and these are the words i remember most vividly-- "those things are not the weapons of war that you have. this is not the way we're going to win this battle." that is not verbatim, but it's close. "drop those weapons, and we will find a way to win this war." and the droppings of the weapons, which i can hear this
moment--i will never forget the significance of hearing these things fall to the ground one by one by one until it appeared that nobody had a weapon in his and her hand. they were just riveted then on what dr. king had to say. >> narrator: as racial tensions grew, the courier reported on the violent backlash of the southern establishment and the ku klux klan. >> i was reporting on the activity of the klan and the sheriff here in st. augustine and making courier headlines out of them. one of the leading civil rights activists there, dr. robert hayling, a dentist-- >> the klan leaders all converged on st. augustine for this big rally, and they had been passing out the handbills and the announcements of this rally throughout the city, so we
decided among the men that i consulted to go out and observe this affair, and we thought we could park along the federal highway and look over into that field and observe without being involved, but i guess that was a mistake, because my car was recognized. >> and the klan saw him and captured him so to speak and made him bend over the hood of his car and flogged him with a chain, knocked out his four front teeth, used a rifle butt to crush his hands so that he wouldn't be able to practice dentistry anymore. >> and there was about 250 klanspeople there, and right on the front row was a young lady who was about 15 or 16, is a patient of mine who had
temporary caps on her front teeth that i had--other dentists had told her she was gonna have to lose those teeth, and i told her i could save those teeth for her, and her mother, and there they were at a klan rally and everything else, and they were patients, former patients of mine, and that's when the speaker or somebody who had access to the microphone asked the people gathered if they have ever smelled the smell of a nigger burn and what have you and said that somebody, and he named the person, had gone to get some gasoline, and when he comes back, they will be treated to the smell of niggers burning. we had an infiltrator, reverend irving chaney, who was a minister from daytona beach, florida, who had infiltrated the group. he backed out of the group gradually, and then he got to his car and took off, and he went to a pay phone, and he
called the highway patrol in tallahassee and announced what was going on and everything else, and the florida state highway patrolmen sent highway patrolmen in from jacksonville and from daytona. >> after he was assaulted by the klan, he was taken to flagler hospital and was forbidden by the hospital to speak to reporters, so he had to ask to be transferred to a so-called black hospital in jacksonville so he could be free to speak. >> and i endured the damage to my upper and lower teeth and also to my head. i had stitches and all and injuries to my head and my skull that i will take to my grave. >> a quote that i had in the courier on october 19th of '63, hayling said, "'it was the look
of utter hatred, even in the faces of the women and little children, that hurt the most,' dr. hayling declared. 'you can hear about it, and you can read about it in books, but you have no idea what it is like until you see it.'" i felt it was tremendously important to get that--hayling's story into the pittsburgh courier, and they did make a headline of it in the national editions. that headline, in my opinion, was instrumental in catching martin luther king's eye and making him decide to come to st. augustine. >> by the time the civil rights movement got in full motion, the mainstream media were beginning to cover it. television showed those dogs and the fire hoses and "bull" connor and the people who were the arch emblems of segregation abusing
protesters, and so that was very vivid. >> narrator: subscriptions to the pittsburgh courier dropped form 280,000 in 1950 to just 100,000 in 1960. advertising revenue alone could not cover the courier's rising cost. >> there was a black page in the morning paper, and it had pictures of black people and some of their activities and that sort of thing. they run one page or two pages, maybe a little more on sunday, and so you could get in the daily press what only, up to that time, the black press would provide. but it was--superficially, it was pretty satisfactory, and therefore, people began to say, "well, i don't need these two newspapers. i can--i don't need the pittsburgh courier anymore.
i can just read the daily whatever." >> narrator: the end finally came in 1965. the courier declared bankruptcy. afterwards, its parent company, the pittsburgh courier publishing company, was liquidated. the crusading newspaper was no more. >> what was kind of sad about all of this is that there was one of the reporters who worked there staring in the 1950s into the 1960s who talked about the fact that we were warriors. in other words, we were battling segregation. we felt like what we were doing was important. we were not going to the white press, which paid more and had a larger circulation, because we believed in what we were doing. well, they finally left. the warriors were dead. >> when the courier declined, america lost one of its great forces for social change and for
social unity. >> when you're afraid of truth, you're in serious trouble. the courier constantly reminded people that truth should be the first item on the agenda, and without that, there will be no progress. >> i often talk about how i love and respect working for the courier and how i held the paper in such high regard, and there's so many reasons, and one of the primary reasons is the people who were involved in the courier, and not only the higher-ups but the writers, the reporters, the runners. they were all very, very sweet, decent, highly professional people. i don't think anybody ever, ever came late to work at the courier. >> there i got to see, as i
said, black people controlling their lives, and it meant something to me, 'cause i really wanted to have some control, and there i got to see people having power to be able to do things that they wanted to do and to go where they wanted to go. >> the main thing i think that's most important is that we had an institution of our own that was able to provide for us opportunities which later on in life we could use to great advantage. >> i just never in life will forget the pride with which i said very often, "i'm a reporter for the pittsburgh courier." captioning by captionmax