Timothy Thomas Fortune

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Timothy Thomas Fortune
Timothy Thomas Fortune.jpg
Born (1856-10-03)October 3, 1856
Marianna, Florida, U.S.
Died June 2, 1928(1928-06-02) (aged 71)
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.
Alma mater Stanton High School for Negroes
Occupation Oratorr, author, publisher, and African American civil rights leader

Timothy Thomas Fortune (October 3, 1856 – June 2, 1928) was an orator, civil rights leader, journalist, writer, editor and publisher. He was the highly influential editor of the nation's leading black newspaper The New York Age, and was the leading economist in the black community. He was a long-time adviser to Booker T. Washington and the ghost writer, and the editor of Washington's first autobiography, The Story of My Life and Work.[1] Fortune’s philosophy of militant agitation on behalf of the rights of black people laid one of the foundations of the Civil Rights Movement.

Early life[edit]

He was born during slavery in Marianna, Jackson County, Florida, to Emanuel and Sarah Jane Fortune. He started his education at Marianna's first school for African Americans after the Civil War. His family moved to Jacksonville where he attended Stanton High School for Negroes. He worked both as a page in the state senate and as apprenticed printer at a Jacksonville newspaper during the time that his father, Emanuel, was a Reconstruction politician in Florida. At one time Fortune also worked at the Marianna Courier and later the Jacksonville Daily-Times Union. These experiences would be the start of a career wherein he would go on to have his work published in over twenty books and articles and in more than three hundred editorials. In 1874 he was mail route agent and then he was promoted to customs inspector for the eastern district of Delaware but only held this position for a few months before resigning in order to attend Howard University.[2]


Although he was mostly self-taught, in 1875 Fortune enrolled in Howard University to study law. He changed to journalism after two semesters before leaving school altogether to begin work, in 1876, at the People's Advocate, a newspaper in Washington, D.C.

New York journalist[edit]

Fortune moved to New York City in 1881 and began a process whereby over the next two decades he would become known as editor and owner of a newspaper named first the Globe, then the Freeman, and finally the New York Age.

Upon arrival in New York, Fortune began working as a printer. He became part owner of various publications, ultimately founding the New York Freeman in 1884. That same year he published a book entitled Black and White: Land, Labor, and Politics in the South. Four years later The Freeman took the new name of The New York Age and set out to become "The Afro-American Journal of News and Opinion".

In Chicago on January 25, 1890, Fortune co-founded the militant National Afro-American League to right wrongs against African Americans authorized by law and sanctioned or tolerated by public opinion. The league fell apart after four years. When it was revived in Rochester, New York, on September 15, 1898, it had the new name of the "National Afro-American Council", with Fortune as President. Those two organizations would play a vital role in setting the stage for the Niagara Movement, NAACP and other civil rights organizations to follow. Fortune was also the leading advocate of using "Afro-American" to identify his people. Since they are "African in origin and American in birth", it was his argument that it most accurately defined them.

With Fortune at the helm as co-owner with Emanuel Fortune, Jr. and Jerome B. Peterson, the New York Age became the most widely read of all Black newspapers. It stood at the forefront as a voice agitating against the evils of discrimination, lynching, mob violence, and disenfranchisement. Its popularity was due to Fortune's editorials which condemned all forms of discrimination and demanded full justice for all African Americans. Ida B. Wells's newspaper Memphis Free Speech and Headlight had its printing press destroyed and building burned as the result of an article published in it on May 25, 1892. Fortune then gave her a job and a new platform from which to detail and condemn lynching. His book The Kind of Education the Afro-American Most Needs was published in 1898. He published Dreams of Life: Miscellaneous Poems in 1905. After a nervous breakdown, Fortune sold the New York Age to Fred R. Moore in 1907, who continued publishing it until 1960. Fortune published another book, The New York Negro in Journalism, in 1915.

Fortune and the Negro World[edit]

Fortune went to work as an editor at the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League's house organ, the Negro World, in 1923. At its height the Negro World had circulation of over 200,000. With distribution throughout the United States, Canada, Europe, Africa, the Caribbean, and in Central America it may have been the most widely distributed newspaper in the world at that time. During his tenure at the Negro World, Fortune rubbed shoulders with such literary luminaries as Zora Neale Hurston, W. A. Domingo, Hubert Harrison, and John E. Bruce, among others.

Fortune moved to Red Bank, New Jersey in 1901, where he built his home, Maple Hill.[3] The house was placed on the National Register of Historic Places on December 8, 1976 and the New Jersey Register of Historic Places on August 16, 1979.[4]

Fortune died in 1928 at the age of 71 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.


  1. ^ Charlotte D. Fitzgerald, "The Story of My Life and Work: Booker T. Washington’s Other Autobiography," The Black Scholar (2001) 21#4 pp 35–40
  2. ^ Culp, Daniel Wallace (1902). Twentieth century Negro literature; or, A cyclopedia of thought on the vital topics relating to the American Negro. Atlanta: J. L. Nichols & Co. p. 226. 
  3. ^ Horner, Shirley. "ABOUT BOOKS", The New York Times, October 3, 1993]. Accessed December 19, 2007. "Timothy Thomas Fortune, a pioneering black journalist, who went on to start The New York Age, once the nation's leading black newspaper, moved to Red Bank in 1901. His Red Bank home, W. Burgen place, is a National Historic Landmark."
  4. ^ NEW JERSEY - Monmouth County, National Register of Historic Places. Accessed November 21, 2007.

Further reading[edit]

  • Curry, Tommy J. "The Fortune of Wells: Ida B. Wells-Barnett’s Use of T. Thomas Fortune’s Philosophy of Social Agitation as a Prolegomenon to Militant Civil Rights Activism," Transactions of the Charles S. Peirce Society: A Quarterly Journal in American Philosophy (2012) 48#4 pp 457–82 in Project MUSE
  • Nelson, Claudia D. "The Men the Influenced Ida B. Wells-Barnett: Jim Wells, T.Thomas Fortune, and Frederick Douglass," Making Connections: A Journal for Teachers of Cultural Diversity (2006) 10#1 pp 25–44.
  • Thornbrough, Emma Lou. T. Thomas Fortune: Militant Journalist (1972), the standard scholarly biography

Primary sources[edit]

  • Alexander, Shawn, ed. T. Thomas Fortune, the Afro-American Agitator: A Collection of Writings, 1880-1928 (2010)

External links[edit]