Robert Lee Vann

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Poster from Office of War Information. Domestic Operations Branch. News Bureau, 1943

Robert Lee Vann (August 27, 1879 – October 24, 1940) was the publisher and editor of the Pittsburgh Courier from 1912 until his death. He was born in Ahoskie, North Carolina, the son of Lucy Peoples and an unknown father.[1] He graduated as valedictorian of Waters Training School in Winton, NC in 1901, and attended Wayland Academy and Virginia Union University in Richmond, VA from 1901 to 1903. He then attended Western University of Pennsylvania, (now the University of Pittsburgh) and graduated from its law school in 1909. He passed the bar examination in 1909 [2] and married Jessie Matthews from Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, in 1910. Vann was one of only five black attorneys in Pittsburgh in 1910, a city with more than 25,000 African Americans.[3] After achieving prominence as the head of the Pittsburgh Courier, one of the nation's top black newspapers, Vann served as Special Assistant to U.S. Attorney General Homer Cummings from 1933 until 1935. Largely neglected and even ill-treated (staff stenographers often refused to take dictation from him because he was black [4]), Vann could not get an appointment to see the Attorney General and in fact may never have met the man while in Washington.[5] Vann resigned in 1935 to return to the Pittsburgh Courier and then led it to prominence as the nation's leading black weekly.[6] He is entombed at Homewood Cemetery, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania.[7] The Liberty Ship SS Robert L. Vann was launched on 10 October 1943 in Portland, Maine with his widow Jessie Matthews Vann attending the launch.[8]


  • The former Robert L. Vann Elementary School, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, was named in his honor.
  • Robert L. Vann School, Ahoskie, North Carolina, named in his honor.
  • A Pennsylvania State historical marker is placed at the corner of Center Avenue and Frances Street, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, noting Vann's accomplishments.[9]
  • The Belgian Tower at the 1939 New York World's Fair was transported to Virginia Union University and renamed the Robert L. Vann Memorial Tower.[10][11]
  • The Liberty Ship SS Robert L. Vann was named in honor of Vann.[12]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Buni 1974, p. 4.
  2. ^ Buni 1974, p. 40.
  3. ^ Buni 1974, p. 40.
  4. ^ Buni 1974, p. 205.
  5. ^ Buni 1974, p. 206.
  6. ^ Bruni 1974, p. 221.
  7. ^
  8. ^ NYPL Digital Gallery, Image ID 1260243 (1943), At Launching of SS Robert L. Vann, p. 32053 
  9. ^ The Historical Marker Database
  10. ^ Pittsburgh Post Gazette (March 20, 1941). "Goal for Vann Memorial". Retrieved 15 October 2014. 
  11. ^ Eagles, Charles W., ed. (1994). Vann, Robert Lee. NCpedia. Retrieved 16 Oct 2014. 
  12. ^

Further reading[edit]