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The Professional World: A newspaper shrouded in mystery

An African-American local newspaper from the early 1900s symbolizes the history of America's Black press

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Between 1875 and 1920, 55 Black newspapers were founded in Missouri. Discover the origins of The Professional World that brought Black press to Columbia.

If you walk into 360 Star Styling Studio on Business Loop 70, you can grab the November issue of The Community Voice. On the front page is a story about the presidential election, and inside are a profile about Kentrell Minton, executive director of the Almeta Crayton’s Community Programs, opinion pieces about Black Lives Matter and COVID-19, and advice about how to invest $1,000. Publisher and editor Timm Hudspeth puts together this eight-page monthly paper. Whether Hudspeth knows it or not, he has been walking in the shoes of a Black newspaper editor from 120 years ago.

That paper was The Professional World, an African-American newspaper published in the early 1900s by a man named Rufus L. Logan. The newspaper — and the man — are shrouded in a fog of time and lack of records, with even scholars and Black publishers today unclear about the history of the publication and its publisher. Logan’s story tells a tale about the early Black press and its evolution into today, with a hint of mystery, too.

Rufus L. Logan

Rufus L. Logan was born in 1875 to his mother, Eliza Logan, and his father, Anderson Logan, a farmer. At 5 years old, he lived in Cedar Township in Callaway County, but later his family moved to New Bloomfield.

logan sil. canva

Rufus L. Logan remains an elusive figure, as there are very few, if any, photos of him in historical archives. 

In 1898, Logan graduated as valedictorian of his college class at Lincoln Institute (changed to Lincoln University in 1921), a historically Black university in Jefferson City. At Lincoln, Logan wrote and served as the literary editor for the Lincoln Institute Record, a newspaper he founded. In 1900, after graduation, Logan continued living in Jefferson City and became a teacher at Washington School, a segregated public school.

On Nov. 1, 1901, Logan published the first edition of the four-page newspaper The Professional World. Residents of Columbia and Jefferson City could pay a yearly subscription of $1.50 to receive the paper weekly. “The columns of The Professional World will be open to all for the discussion of all subjects pertaining to the education and elevation of the negro,” Logan wrote in the first issue.

In Chronicling America, the Library of Congress digitized archives of newspapers, anyone can browse through two years and two months of The Professional World, after which the record abruptly stops on Dec. 25, 1903. However, the paper did not stop publishing at this point. A single microfilm of the April 23, 1909, issue exists in the State Historical Society of Missouri archives. And clippings from other newspapers around the U.S. and Columbia reveal the paper existed until at least 1920 or 1921.

The Need for a Black Newspaper

Logan understood the importance of the Black press in the early 20th century. Although parts of his publication are missing from academic records, there is plenty of research about the development of the industry. Fred Sweets, a current contributing editor of the weekly St. Louis American, describes the need for Black press this way: “White newspapers would not cover the Black community unless there was a murder or a gang story. You wouldn’t know that Black people were born, died, got married, worked well, unless you read it in the Black press.”

According to census information, in 1900, Columbia’s population was nearly 34% Black. Like any other community, readers wanted news that directly affected them. Such news was rarely covered by the white newspapers in town, which in 1901 included the Columbia Herald, Columbia Statesman, and Commercial, all of which were weeklies, and the single daily newspaper, the Columbia Daily Tribune. Many around the country tried to publish Black dailies, but most lasted less than a decade, particularly in small cities.

Missouri’s Black press was active during the early 1900s. Between 1875 and 1920, 55 Black newspapers were founded in Missouri, George Slavens writes in The Black Press in the South, 1865-1979.

One of the major Black newspapers in Missouri at the time was the St. Louis Palladium, published by John Wheeler. The Professional World had a rivalry with the Palladium over which paper was the official publication of two Black fraternities.

“Wherever you could find Black people in numbers, who were prospering or not, the Black press was there to serve,” Sweets says of the common mission of the Black press. In 1919, another prominent Black newspaper, The Kansas City Call, was founded by Chester Arthur Franklin and later led by Lucile Harris Bluford, a civil rights activist who was denied entry to the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism based on her race. The Call gained national prominence and was one of 22 newspapers present at the first conference of the National Newspaper Publishers Association, a collective of Black newspapers, in 1940.

Throughout the country, the Black press reported specifically to the Black community. Freedom’s Journal, which lasted from 1827 to 1829, is the first known Black-owned newspaper in the U.S. In the first issue, editors and publishers John Russwurm and Samuel Cornish wrote, “We wish to plead our own cause. Too long have others spoken for us.” The Chicago Defender began in 1905 as a leading voice of the Black community. It is credited with encouraging the so-called Great Migration, which was the mass movement of Black people from the South to the rest of the country.

Today, Timm Hudspeth provides his newspaper, The Community Voice, with its tagline of “Columbia’s voice of diversity,” to the local community for free. “All I really want to do is to give people the opportunity to get their voice heard,” he says. Hudspeth, a former host of Straight Talk on KOPN/89.5 FM, has been publishing the paper off and on for about 30 years, according to 2011 reporting by the Missourian.

Flipping through The Professional World

What we know about the contents of The Professional World is based on scholarly research and the few clippings that have been uncovered, but there are years’ worth of issues that remain missing from archives. Logan frequently published news about the who’s who of the Columbia Black community, such as horticulturist Henry Kirklin, businesswoman and cook Annie Fisher and musician John William “Blind” Boone. The paper also printed guest columns from personalities such as Dr. J. E. Perry, an African-American physician who set up a hospital for the Black community in Kansas City.

“In the pages of The Professional World, Columbia’s Blacks did not appear as a problem to be solved but rather as a group ready for greater success,” writes Patricia L. Roberts in A Lynching in Little Dixie: The Life and Death of James T. Scott.

Large chunks of the newspaper were reprints of news items from around the country, a typical practice for the time. On multiple occasions, the paper published a large advertisement for a face-whitening bleach cream, face powder and hair straightener. But Logan’s approach evolved with time, and in 1902, he vowed to never again publish such advertisements. He also often wrote editorials condemning lynching and encouraging Black community members to exercise their voting rights.

Henry Kirklin, Annie Fisher, “Blind” Boone

Logan featured stories about those in Columbia's Black community such as Annie Fisher (top), Henry Kirklin (middle), and John William “Blind” Boone (bottom).

Although The Professional World covered racial issues, it was with a conservative bent. Its approach was what Debra Foster Greene, a former Lincoln University history professor, calls “to educate and elevate.”

For instance, in the first issue, Logan lauds President Theodore Roosevelt’s decision to invite Booker T. Washington to dinner. Washington was a prominent Black activist whose ideas were hotly contested by other Black leaders. They challenged his approach of including white perspectives in the discourses on equality. In the 1903 Christmas issue of The Professional World, Logan included an image of Washington, as well as offered free life-size portraits of him to new subscribers.

The conservative approach meant that Logan advocated for the community to build Black businesses and frequently printed advertisements for them. He also called for Black empowerment through education. As James Whitt, chairman of the Sharp End Heritage Committee in Columbia, says, “It was not a newspaper that advocated agitation.”

Logan also took interest in his alma mater, Lincoln University. He covered the university news in great detail and encouraged others to study there. In the Christmas 1903 issue of The Professional World, he published columns by Black educators from around the state.

In 2002, Jason Jindrich wrote in Our Black Children: The Evolution of Black Space in Columbia, Missouri that The Professional World was the most important record of the Black space in Columbia at the turn of the century. Jindrich writes that it’s regrettable that records of the paper beyond 1903 don’t exist because it’s a loss of an authentic Black voice.

The MU Department of Sociology began to study Columbia’s Black community in 1903 and is the primary record from that time. However, this research was whitewashed and “paternalistic” in tone, Jindrich writes.

The murky end of The Professional World

Logan continued to publish The Professional World even as he entered new career paths. He became a principal at the segregated school in Huntsville in 1902. He also became a recording secretary for the Colored State Teachers Association and was one of only three Black men at the Republican State Convention in 1908. John Lay Thompson, editor of the Black newspaper the Iowa State Bystander, described Logan as “full of work and ambition” in 1907.

Logan’s reason for shutting down the newspaper remains a mystery. In August 1921, the Columbia Evening Missourian reported that Logan had been appointed as secretary for the board of curators for Lincoln University. Logan was one of three Black people chosen. But this seemed to spell the end of his newspaper career, as the Missourian notes that he “until recently published a newspaper” when announcing his appointment to the board. In October 1921, The Topeka Plaindealer also called Logan an “ex-newspaper man.” Perhaps Logan found himself unable to juggle two important responsibilities.

It’s also possible that financial difficulties led to him shutting down the paper, as many papers of the time ended this way, writes George Slavens in The Black Press in the South, 1865-1979. By 1930, Logan had long left behind his newspaper career. Instead, Logan worked in real estate while living in Kansas City, according to alumni records of Lincoln University. In Antonio Frederick Holland’s book, Nathan B. Young and the Struggle Over Black Higher Education, he writes that Logan was also a Standard Life Insurance Company agent. Logan died on May 15, 1937, at the age of 62.

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Some history of The Professional World and its publisher is still unknown to scholars.

Despite its longevity, The Professional World is not often cited as a resource for research because individuals cannot access the entire record. For a long time, researchers believed the paper lasted only a few years. For instance, late librarian Charles A. O’Dell put together a book about the paper in the 1980s called Professional World, 1901-1903, A Columbia, Missouri, Black Newspaper. Many other references to the newspaper say that it lasted just two to three years.

Complete archives of the paper could provide Columbia historians with a fuller picture of the Black community at the time. Mary Beth Brown, a postdoctoral MU history candidate who has researched local history for 15 years, says newspapers have been particularly useful in her research. A former archivist at The State Historical Society of Missouri, Brown focuses on Columbia’s civil rights era and sought out The Professional World when researching prominent historical figures like Annie Fisher and John William “Blind” Boone.

The digitization of newspaper records, in the form of websites like newspapers.com or the Chronicling America project, is a recent phenomenon. “It takes time and energy and money and people to digitize things,” Brown says. “That’s why there’s not a lot available.” In reality, she says, physical microfilm records will last longer than digitization, though digitization helps researchers.

Tatyana Shinn, assistant director of reference at the State Historical Society of Missouri, says actual copies of historic newspapers like The Professional World usually come from individuals. So, no one can be certain that the records of a particular newspaper are lost. Physical copies could be in private collections or dusty attics.

“Somebody could have it somewhere,” Brown says. “Which would be really cool, if they did.”

State of the Black Press today

As far as can be established, The Professional World remains the first-known Black newspaper in Columbia. Others have since been published, but they have faced their own challenges.

The Trumpet was a monthly paper published from 2007 to 2010 by William E. “Gene” Robertson, an MU emeritus professor of community development. “My philosophy is generally what happens to Black folks happens to underprivileged and disenfranchised people of any color,” Robertson says. Unsatisfied by the public response and difficulties in producing the paper, he stopped publication after three years.

The Black press continues to grapple with a lack of recognition beyond the Black community. Leigh Lockhart, the white owner of the cafe Main Squeeze, has advertised in The Community Voice for the past year. She also stocks it at her eatery. “How do we live so apart?” she says. “How have I lived here 20-something years and never known about The Community Voice? We’re just so separate, and that saddens me.” She found the paper after a recommendation from friend Verna Laboy, a local Black health educator.

timm Hudspeth

Hudspeth publishes The Community Voice, an eight-page monthly paper, to promote Columbia's diverse voices. He has been publishing the paper off and on for about 30 years. 

In 2003, reporter Larry Muhammad wrote for Neiman Reports that while some say the Black press lost influence after the civil rights era of the ’60s, others argue that the data does not support this claim. Fewer readers might reflect a national trend. Afternoon newspapers have disappeared, and the growth of television has led to a drop in readership. In a 2020 article for Neiman Reports, Deborah Douglas, a journalism professor at DePauw University, notes that Black legacy news outlets have lost influence. But she outlines the several emerging Black media outlets that are covering subjects like COVID-19’s impact on the community and the Black Lives Matter movement.

At present, there are about 200 Black-owned newspapers being published in the U.S., according to the National Newspaper Publishers Association. Of these, four from Missouri are registered with the NNPA. While Hudspeth had to pause publication briefly due to the pandemic, he is back at work now and says he hopes more people will send letters to The Community Voice. (He can be reached at timmhudspeth@yahoo.com.)

Roy Lovelady, owner of 360 Star Style Studio, is very familiar with the paper and has stocked it at his salon for nearly 15 years. “It’s one of those papers where [Hudspeth] literally goes around, and he drops it into every Black-owned business,” Lovelady says. “It just has a lot of information that may not get out in any other media. It’s a very big asset to the Black community.”

Although the full history of Rufus L. Logan and The Professional World continues to be uncertain, its legacy remains, reflected in the works of Black newspapers today.

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