|The Black Dispatch. Roscoe Dunjee established this pioneer and excellent weekly newspaper either in 1914 or 1915 (souces vary). The fine Dustbury archives, September 3, 2005, places the second Black Dispatch location at 324 NE 2nd as does this OHS article, which would place it a little west of the Slaughter building but on the south side of the street. Premier Oklahmoma City historian Bob Blackburn notes in this article that in 1915 Mr. Dunjee initially set up shop at 228 E. 1st Street. Sanborn Maps show the locations of both.
For further reading, see Jim Crow Laws in Okc.
Mr. Dunjee died March 1, 1965, at the age of eighty-one. For an OHS biography, click here. William D. Welge's Oklahoma City Rediscovered (Arcadia Publishing 2007) says that the newspaper continued publication at 324 N.E. 2nd until it closed operations and ceased publishing in 1982.
228 E. 1st
Second Black Dispatch Location
324 E. 2nd
Even though Roscoe Dunjee was inducted into the Oklahoma Journalism Hall of Fame in 1971, that organization's inaugural year, he is not quite the Oklahoma City household word that he should be. If you read the text below, I think that you'll agree. For more reading, see Deep Second Still Lives In Dreams.
A crop of a photo at page 61 of William D. Welge's Oklahoma City Rediscovered (Arcadia Publishing 2007) shows the 2nd Black Dispatch building. It is the building to the right (west) of the blond building shown below.
Better than building pictures is a wonderful word picture which would doubtless mean more to Mr. Dunjee than photos of scruffy old buildings -- his fortes were noble ideas and the power of the written word. In 1997, Charles A. Simmons wrote a history of black newspapers, focusing on four which became nationally prominent, the Chicago Defender, the Pittsburgh Courier, the Jackson (Mississipi) Advocate, and the Black Dispatch.
|The chapter on the Black Dispatch was available as an image at the Amazon.com website -- I OCR'ed it and came up with the text shown below, after the photo, every word of which I encourge you to read.|
|The Black Dispatch (middle building) at a war rally in 1942
Excerpts from The African American Press: A History of News Coverage During National Crises, With Special Reference to Four Black Newspapers, 1827-1965 by Charles A. Simmons (McFarland & Company 1997). The excerpts were located at Amazon.com's review of this book at this location.
In Oklahoma City, Roscoe Dunjee with his Black Dispatch took a direction with his editorial philosophy that differed from that of Abbott but was somewhat similar to that of Vann. Abbott gloried in the sensational, using explicit or shocking photographs and graphic details in his text. He saw the Southern white man as using any means, including lynching, to deter the advancement of Negroes, so he didn't hesitate to red-ink atrocities committed against the former slaves across the front pages of the Defender. Vann, on the other hand, centered much of his attention on city and other local race problems while attempting to get the downtrodden to help themselves. He took frequent shots at the government, however, when he believed they were warranted. Dunjee, who was unlike Vann or Abbott in his journalistic goals, did agree that a man should be given a chance to survive and better himself without a foot holding him down. He was a civil rights advocate, and the Black Dispatch was the mouthpiece he used to convey his messages. He was almost fearless in what he had to say and attacked racial discrimination in all of its forms. He attacked anyone from anywhere, even the governor of the state, regardless of political or commercial clout, if he determined that their treatment of Negroes or anyone else was not justified.
As were his contemporaries, Abbott and Vann, Dunjee was born in the South, on June 21, 1883, at Harper's Ferry, West Virginia.. He was the son of the Reverend John William and Lydia Ann Dunjee. When Roscoe was born, his father was the publisher of a local newspaper, the Harper's Ferry Messenger, and worked as a financial agent for a local college. At the same time, he was employed by the American Baptist Missionary Society, which sent the reverend all over the nation to organize Baptist work. His family moved to Oklahoma in 1892 and settled on a farm east of Oklahoma City.
Once the family had settled, Dunjee attended the public schools,
which included some study under the elementary department at the Colored Agricultural and Normal University. He also gained some experience in publications while working in a print shop there. Since his father had been a publisher at Harper's Ferry, Roscoe was able to receive encouragement and the full benefit of his father's experience in the field of journalism. He also had extensive use of his father's library, 1,500 books accumulated over a lifetime.
In 1902 the Reverend Dunjee passed away, leaving the family with a farm that was not in the best condition and a $1,100 mortgage. By that time, however, Dunjee was capable of tending the farm. Each day he would load his vegetables on three farm trucks and then cart them off to the city to sell. He continued this practice for the next 15 years.
When he wasn't busy with his chores, Dunjee concentrated on reading and writing, and he eventually began writing for various newspapers owned by Negroes. One was the Bookertee Searchlight, a newspaper in Bookertee, Oklahoma. He then joined with his friend Jimmy Stewart and began to write short articles for a newspaper owned by the Abby family.
With what money he could scrape together from the sale of vegetables and from what he was able to save from his job as bellhop at the Stewart Hotel in Oklahoma City, Dunjee purchased a printing plant. But going to press would not be so simple. Finding seasoned Negro journalists in Oklahoma and keeping them there would be one of his more difficult tasks. Any Negro who aspired to become a journalist in Oklahoma had to leave the state to obtain training and then return to Oklahoma to work.
Abbott had been resourceful, particularly in circumventing official Southern efforts to ban his newspaper from that region. Dunjee was also very resourceful. If the community could not provide the skilled workers he needed in his print shop, he would seek them elsewhere. They came from a very unlikely place – the state prison. That was the only location in Oklahoma which did allow journalism training for Negroes. As a result, on March 4, 1914, Dunjee published the first issue of the Black Dispatch.
Prior to the start of the Dispatch, there had been only six other editors who had chosen to use the word black in their newspaper's title. The Black Republican and Officer Holder's Journal, 1865, New York; the Black Republican, 1865, New Orleans; the Kansas Blackman, 1894, Topeka; the Kansas Blackman, 1894, Coffeyville; Our Brother in Black,
1880, Muskogee, Oklahoma Territory; and the Black Dispatch, 1898, Fort Worth. None of those papers had existed longer than three years. It can be assumed, then, that many Negroes may have found the use of the word black to represent their race a bit repugnant. Armistead Scott Pride interviewed Dunjee in 1946 and was told how the name was chosen:
The Black Dispatch was given its name as a result of an effort to dignify a slur. Even in this day when many people seek to refer to an untruth they resort to an old expression, 'That's black dispatch gossip." The influence of this statement is very damaging to the integrity and self-respect of the race. All of this has developed a psychology among Negroes that their color is a curse and that there is something evil in their peculiar pigmentation. It is my contention that Negroes should be proud to say, "I am a black man."Once work began at the Black Dispatch, employees had to help make up the paper, write stories, and sell advertising, the latter being their most difficult task. It took time for Dunjee to hone those journalists so they could function in the style consistent with the larger Negro papers. When their stories reflected the "fruits of their learnings," the Kansas City Call, the Norfolk Journal and Guide, the Baltimore Afro-American, or Chicago Defender would offer them larger salaries and snatch them away. Dunjee was not noted for giving generous salaries or benefits to his employees. He therefore faced the difficultly of not only getting advertisements to sustain the paper but also keeping trained workers in-house for long periods.
As for his editorial philosophy, Dunjee outlined exactly what he intended to pursue and what he would avoid:
The policy of the Black Dispatch is not to publish stories of brutality and crime in the spirit of the yellow journalist. Every week we try to take the news field for subjects that will be inspirational to the race and promote and develop good citizenship....
Dunjee was angry over the way his friends and neighbors were being treated because of the color of their skin. But more than anything else, he was angry over the lack of reaction by Negroes to that treatment and their deafening silence. Dunjee wanted a medium to inform, to stir, to arouse his people to fight for the right to survive and to live with common dignity. Dunjee's mother agreed that injustices towards Negroes were obvious and someone should rally the people in their own interest. But not her son. She feared for his life and had urged him not to become a journalist. That feeling came as no surprise to Dunjee when he remembered his younger years. "My father was a newspaper man during the Reconstruction period. His experience during these hectic and troublous times caused my mother to doubt the wisdom of my entering the journalistic field."
During the height of the Great Northern Drive, the Black Dispatch, more similar to the Courier in content than the Defender, showed support through its columns of advice to those making the trip. Even though more than fifty years had passed since the Emancipation Proclamation, Dunjee recognized that many Negroes who had been released from slavery had avoided any contact with authorities; therefore they had had no exposure to education or training. The offspring and relatives front that uneducated group were among those heading north for better wages and conditions. Unfortunately, they did not possess the survival skills or maturity necessary to sustain a good lifestyle in the North:
We are compelled at this stage of race development to talk more to this Negro about his duties than his privileges. Many are not yet developed enough to appreciate their rights. Loud and coarse behavior in public places, soiled, ill-smelling work clothing worn in places of entertainment; and sometimes occupying a little more than his side of the sidewalk, is not an intelligent exercise of our rights.There were also those race members who believed that getting involved in civic affairs or becoming a part of civil rights groups was senseless and would only lead to trouble. To avoid serious trouble, in their eyes, it was necessary to bypass attempts at getting ahead, stall any moves to elevate Negro people from the lowly position they held, and thank the Lord that they were free and alive. Any attempts at political involvement were out of the question because they were seen as an invitation to certain death. These race members believed that accommodation was the answer for race survival. In the face of such beliefs, Dunjee could not restrain his pen:
The most disgusting and senseless Negro that we know is the fellow who stands around and says, "Oh I never vote; I'm not registered" and who always slum and tells you that the Negro who is active in politics in the community is selling you out and should not be trusted.Dunjee was also akin to Vann with his attempts to "rattle some cages" and get members of the race to better themselves. He thought that such action was crucial for simple survival. He also believed it would be difficult enough for Negroes to improve with conditions as they currently were, but if outside factions continued their attempts to "keep the Negro in his place," it would he almost impossible. Dunjee therefore saw his role as twofold: strike hard to obtain civil rights for Negroes similar to those enjoyed by the mainstream and push the race members to educate themselves so that they could become aware of their own faults.
When it came to editorials, the Black Dispatch excelled. Dunjee was known across the nation and well known within Oklahoma for his blazing and attention-getting comments. At times they were intense or vigorous and penetrating even to those who rarely agreed with his views.
Jimmy Stewart, a writer for the Black Dispatch, could never forget the impact of Dunjee's writing:
As we traveled throughout the country, persons remarked about Dunjee's editorials, and although all who knew him or mad them knew they would be the world longest, at no place have I met a person who said they failed to read them because of their length. This, to me, is a tribute to the writer as well as to the content of his editorials.One example of Dunjee's long editorials was written in 1941 when the issue of discrimination against Negroes and their constitutional rights came under investigation. An organization known as the Oklahoma Federation for Constitutional Rights was formed "to launch a campaign against hypocrisy within democracy."
The governor of the state, Leon C. Phillips, responded to the forming of that group by saying: "This organization about constitutional rights is the height of folly. No one is denied constitutional rights in Oklahoma."
The governor's response triggered an editorial from Dunjee:
Surely the governor belongs to that class spoken of in the Bible: "which have eyes, and see not; which have ears and but not."The audacity of Dunjee with his Black Dispatch in pointing out so incisively the unfair treatments or violations of Negro civil rights was clearly shown through his editorials directed towards other government officials, as well. On one occasion in 1917 after a train wreck had killed several Negroes in Oklahoma, Dunjee directed a front page editorial to the corporation commission:
Just a few days ago, Most Honored Gentlemen, there happened near Kelleyville, on the Frisco railroad, one of the most damnable crimes of the age. Jim Crowism flowed, gentlemen, at Kelleyville! For in the snuffing out of the lives of those twenty helpless black men and women, whose brains, arms and eyes were scattered like dung upon the soil of the land of the fair gods and there was brought to light the vile sort of "equal accommodations" furnished black men by the railroads of Oklahoma, in Democratic America.Dunjee also questioned the corporation commission about the lack of truant officers in the Negro neighborhood:
To the County Commissioners: We, the colored citizens of the Colored Oklahoma City Schools, remembering the good things you have done, would like to point out a glaring weakness in the colored system. We have no truant officer for the colored. A truant officer is more bitterly needed by us than by the white school. Negro schools are often located in neighborhoods for moral growth.When it came to the fighting soldiers, Dunjee thought their morale was very important. It wasn't easy for Negroes to enlist and fight in a war with dignity and respect in the eyes of Europeans and then return home to the same substandard conditions, violence, and uncertainty which had previously existed. Yet Negro soldiers went off to war hoping that things would be better when they returned home. In Dunjee's eyes, if they were fighting, at least officials in Oklahoma should recognize those efforts.
When Governor Robert L. Williams made an address to National Red Cross officials, he recognized the white soldiers fighting for the country but did not mention Negroes. Dunjee responded:
I was grieved to note, most honored governor, that in your report you made no reference to our approximately 2,000 brave black boys of Oklahoma who are now in the training camp at Chillicothe, Ohio, boys, who, if the state of Oklahoma had not refused them training within her borders, or if permitted to train at Camp Bowie as your report suggested, would not now be suffering in the chilly blasts of a northern state as many letters on file at my office will attest.On May 31 and June 1, 1921, a riot occurred in the Greenwood district of Tulsa, Oklahoma. The Tulsa World on June 1 issued four
extras with major headlines: "NEW BATTLE NOW IN PROGRESS; Whites Advancing into'Little Africa;' Negro Dead List Is About 15." On June 2, the New York Times carried a headline "85 WHITES AND NEGROES DIE IN TULSA RIOT AS 3,000 ARMED MEN BATTLE IN STREETS: 30 BLACKS BURNED: MILITARY RULE IN CITY:'" On June 3 the Black Dispatch carried the headline "Police Drag Women Behind Motor Cycles – Barrett [Oklahoma's adjutant general] Says Tulsa Police Laid Down, Black ,Mother Gives Birth in Chaos: $2,500,000 Of Negro Property Is Destroyed."
The Black Dispatch reported that the riot was started after a youth, Dick Rowland, was accused by a white woman, Sarah Page, of attacking her in an elevator. Rowland was arrested and taken into custody. That evening, some white men converged upon the jail and demanded the prisoner. Upon hearing that a group of white men were bent on lynching Rowland, a group of Negroes in the Greenwood district gathered and went to the jail to offer their services for protection of the prisoner. They were told to "go home and behave themselves."
On the other side of the building, the sheriff was giving a similar message to the group of white men who had gathered. They, however, refused to disperse. Upon hearing that the group of white men had not dispersed from the jail, members of the Negro group, who had returned to their neighborhood, reinforced themselves with arms and returned to the courthouse. At least one of the men from the white group dashed among the Negroes and tried to disarm them. During the struggle, a gun went off. The Greenwood district then became the central battleground after members of the Negro group fled from the area and returned to their homes with the white group in pursuit. En route to the Greenwood district, the white group broke into "every hardware and sporting goods store in the city" to arm themselves.
According to Mary E. Jones Parrish, from the W.P.A. Writers Project of the Oklahoma Historical Society:
As daylight approached, they (the Whites) were given a signal by a whistle, and the outrage took place... .In addition to keeping up with the riot, the Black Dispatch made Attempts to squelch humors, tried to keep track of Sarah Page, the
accuser, and Dick Rowland, the accused, and raised money for "the colored citizens of Tulsa." It would be a difficult task for Dunjee, with so many uprooted Greenwood residents running from the city and others being jailed by police for being on the streets. Locating the Greenwood residents, alive or dead, would be an almost impossible job.
When Dunjee investigated the cause of the riot, he learned that Rowland while entering the elevator had stumbled and stepped on the foot of Sarah Page, the elevator operator, who, thinking she was being attacked, struck him continuously with her handbag. Rowland "grabbed her hand as he stepped out of the elevator." He was later picked up by the police a few blocks from the building where the incident had occurred.
After being questioned by the Tulsa police, Rowland was released with no charges filed. In fact, he was not in the police building when the white mob appeared there to lynch him, but the authorities said they "could not afford to tell where he was." So the riot started, unfortunately, not because there had been a rape or even an attempted rape but because knowledge of what had occurred between the boy and the girl had been withheld from the gathered lynch mob. On the surface, then, there was no reason for the riot or why it was carried out with such destructive intensity.
But Dunjee thought there was. Unlike Robert Abbott's attitude during the riots of 1919 when it appeared important to get even with whites for stoning the Negro swimmer, Dunjee was more concerned with why so many lives were lost, why there had been so much looting, and why had there been such a total destruction of property within the Greenwood district.
It was Dunjee's belief that the Tulsa business district which desired more expansion space but which had advanced as far as it could up to the Greenwood district was geographically blocked by Negroes from further land development. Expansion into the Greenwood area could be accomplished if Negroes were not occupying that land or if they would sell a large portion of it. Although effort had been made to purchase large tracts of that area, they had not been successful, even after large sums of money had been offered.
After the riot, the Tulsa World reported on June 1 that "the 'black belt' was beyond the powers of all human agency to save from flames which bid fair to raze the entire section." Was it a convenience or necessity when the Tulsa city commissioners came out with an extended fire limit ordinance which was interpreted to mean "THAT
THE OLD BLACK BELT HAS BEEN ABOLISHED AND THAT THE CREATION OF A NEW BLACK DISTRICT, FARTHER OUT AND REMOVED FROM THE BUSINESS DISTRICT WILL BE MANDATORY"?
Since the Greenwood district which had previously blocked the Tulsa business district from expanding onto that tract of land had been burned to the ground and the Negro people legally evicted from their property and placed "farther out and removed from the business district," the land was now open for other developments, particularly business developments. Dunjee thought that was too convenient for a coincidence and said in a front-page story that "this latest FIRE LIMIT ORDINANCE SHOWS PLAINLY THAT TULSA COVETED ALSO THE VERY LAND UPON WHICH BLACK MEN DWELT."
The loss of land, other property, relatives, and friends left a deep and bitter scar on Negro Tulsans. In their eyes, even if a rape had occurred, how could the destruction of an entire lifestyle be justified? How did a mob bent on a simple lynching acquire airplanes with gasoline bombs, loot the area before its destruction, and then make an effort to destroy every building in the district? And why were the Negroes rounded up and interned while the white rioters were allowed to assist the authorities? It was another race incident in which Dunjee saw his fellow race members come out on the short end.
There had been in Oklahoma many instances of direct conflict between Dunjee or others of his race and those who had opposed the civil rights of Negroes and equalization of the law for Negroes or those who had tried to circumvent the law to deprive Negroes of what was legally theirs. When Dunjee was asked by a television station in Oklahoma City about his personal feelings and whether he harbored any ill will against any Oklahomans who had confronted him, he responded:
I think today, and at this moment, I can truthfully say, despite the many difficult struggles I've had with those who oppose my philosophy and viewpoints, there is not a man in this state white, black, or red, against whom I hold any ill-will.
Robert Abbott had made a place in history with his introduction of yellow journalism among Negro editors. It was not liked by all, but it was at least profitable for Abbott. Robert Vann and his Courier had shown that delivering the news with facts but in a lively style would work, if done correctly. Dunjee went a step further by taking his facts and evaluations to the editorial page and placing another side of the issue to the reader. The other side was not always liked or appreciated by many in the white community but was savored by Negroes. Unfortunately for Dunjee, Negroes were not a strong part of the business industry, an industry he needed for advertising revenue.
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