Born into slavery in Florida in 1856, Timothy Thomas Fortune and his family were forced out of their home after the Civil War. During that time, reactionary and angry white mobs were killing blacks, Northerners, and Republicans to “redeem” the defeated South.
They eventually settled in Jacksonville, where Fortune began to work at a local newspaper as a compositor, or typesetter. In 1874, Fortune enrolled at the renowned Howard University in Washington, D.C., but was forced to leave due to his family’s financial predicament. He had to look for a job, and found it at a black newspaper.
Returning to Florida after marriage, he was once again driven away by the rampant and violent racism and eventually moved to New York City. While in New York, Fortune became active in the Afro-American League. He found employment with the New York Globe and also wrote a widely read book, Black and White: Land, Labor and Politics in the South (1884). He also offered work for the notable anti-lynching crusader, Ida Barnett Wells, after her Memphis newspaper offices were gutted by an antiblack massacre.
Fortune eventually found himself traveling around the South, where he composed notes on the worsening of white reaction and revanchism after the failure of Reconstruction. Jim Crow laws were being implemented and becoming more restrictive, and lynchings, massacres, and other outrages against the black masses were becoming more and more frequent. This was also the time of Plessy vs. Ferguson (1896), when separate but equal laws that would make law (again) the legal and social inequality of blacks in regard to whites. During his tour, he also became friends with Booker T. Washington, and synthesized Washington’s views in the 1898 book “The Future of the American Negro.”
Fortune suffered a nervous breakdown for a myriad of reasons, namely, his friend Washington’s secret takeover of the New York Age. In the 1910s, he recovered and recuperated a bit of his self-esteem, continuing his journalism work. In 1923, he became editor of the UNIA organ, Negro World, serving in this capacity until his death in 1928.
Fortune, T. Thomas. Black and White: Land, Labor, and Politics in the South. Arno Press: 1968.
Tuskegee’s Point Man: Timothy Fortune
Thornbrough, Emma Lou. T. Thomas Fortune: Militant Journalist, Chicago: University of
Chicago Press, 1972.