Benjamin Pelham was a powerful Detroit politician and journalist. He was the proprietor and editor of the first successful African American newspaper in Detroit, The Plaindealer.
Pelham was born in Detroit on February 7, 1862, to free parents from Virginia, Robert Pelham, a plasterer, and mason and Frances Butcher. While in high school, Pelham was a messenger with the Detroit Post, Michigan’s foremost Republican daily. He learned the mechanics of typesetting which later led to his position as an apprentice typesetter for the renamed Post-Tribune. He edited a paper titled The Venture for three years while working for the Post.
Together with his brother, Pelham started Detroit’s ‘The Plaindealer, a larger newspaper that targeted the growing Black community of Detroit and southern Michigan. The first issue of The Plaindealer was printed on May 19, 1883, with Robert as the managing editor. The Plaindealer was successful, widely read publication that became one of the leading African American newspaper in the United States. Many of its articles were written by well-known blacks.
After dissolving the newspaper, Pelham began a long career in government. He was first appointed to a post in revenue and customs in 1895 because of his work for Republican political campaigns the previous year. In 1900, he worked in the Wayne County Register of Deeds Office until 1906 when he was appointed Wayne County accountant, the highest non-elective office in the county at that time. Pelham was regarded as one of the most successful and influential figures in the county government during this time. He was nicknamed the “Wayne County Czar.” As such, Pelham was likely the most powerful black politician in the country during the early 20th century. Benjamin Pelham died in Detroit on October 7, 1948.
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