T. Thomas Fortune is considered one of the leading civil rights advocates for black Americans through the late 1800s. This article explores his work.
Uncompromising in his defense of the rights of his fellow African Americans, T. Thomas Fortune fought for justice throughout his long career as a journalist.
Timothy Thomas Fortune was born into slavery in 1856. His parents were Sarah Jane and Emanuel Fortune. Throughout his childhood, Thomas regularly witnessed the violence of the Ku Klux Klan, motivated by extreme political views.
Fortune’s father was one of two African Americans elected delegates to the Florida Constitutional Convention. After being targeted by the Klan, his father was forced to flee and Thomas became the man of the house.
With no more than three years of schooling, Fortune still enrolled at Howard University in 1874. He was an avid reader and an avid learner, but difficult financial circumstances forced him to leave after just one year.
However, he managed to take a few law courses.
After leaving college, T. Thomas Fortune taught at a school in Florida and worked for the Jacksonville Daily Union. However, he soon realized he faced an uphill battle living as an African American in Florida.
So he moved to New York and took the lessons he had learned growing up in a time of reconstruction.
During the 1880s, Fortune grew frustrated with the way Democrats and Republicans handled the protection of black American rights in the South.
He frequently published articles supporting political independence and lambasted both.
In 1881 the new york globe was launched and Fortune took over from John F. Quarles as editor. The Globe, along with its successors the New York Freeman and the New York Age, have been widely hailed as America’s most outstanding “running newspapers.”
Fortune was forced out of the Globe after it was declared to be a Republican newspaper. The Republican Party refused to subsidize the paper until Fortune left office.
In 1884, Fortune had decided that the country needed a national organization to fight for the political and civil rights of all African Americans. He suggested it should look like an all-black version of the Irish National League.
In 1890, the African American League was formed to protect black voters in the South and end lynching.
The organization also worked to ensure school funds were equalized for both races. The organization gained support from the black press and conventions.
However, major black politicians refused to support him, so the league folded in 1893.
T. Thomas Fortune formed a working relationship with Booker T. Washington, who later became a direct adviser to Theodore Roosevelt on race issues.
Under immense pressure in her professional life, Fortune suffered from mental health issues. Towards the end of her life, Fortune explored various writing assignments. He died in Philadelphia.
The Paper The Negro World published a eulogy naming him as one of the leaders in improving the lives of black Americans during this era, placing his work above that of Booker T. Washington while rivaling Frederick Douglass.
T. Thomas Fortune’s work paved the way for campaigns by figures like the NAACP, Malcolm X and Stokely Carmichael. Like Dr. Martin Luther King, Fortune used her skills with the written word to call for love and unity between races, despite her horrific early years.
T. Thomas Fortune is featured as a character in HBO’s new hit series “The Gilded Age.”