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Wed, 08.27.1879

Robert Lee Vann, a publishing original

Robert L. Vann

This date marks the birthday of Robert Lee Vann in 1879. He was an African American publisher, lawyer, and the editor of the Black newspaper, the Pittsburgh Courier.

Robert Lee Vann was born, in Ahoskie, Hertford County, North Carolina, and attended Western University of Pennsylvania. He graduated from law school in June 1909. In 1910, he became the Pittsburgh Courier's editor and publisher. Under his nurturing leadership, The Courier developed into one of the leading Black newspapers of this era. By the 1930s, it was one of the highest-circulation Black newspapers in the United States. As many as 14 different editions were circulated throughout the country.

Vann was involved in politics throughout his association with The Courier. In 1918, he was appointed the fourth assistant city solicitor in Pittsburgh, the highest position held by an African American in the city government. Initially a Republican, he grew disillusioned with the party and converted to the Democratic Party.

On September 11, 1932, Vann delivered a famous speech at the St. James Literary Forum in Cleveland, titled "The Patriot and the Partisan," and urged African Americans throughout the nation to turn away from the Republican Party which had failed them, and support the Democratic Party of Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1932 election. Vann was subsequently named special assistant to the U. S. attorney general. In 1935, he helped campaign for the enactment of an equal rights law in the State of Pennsylvania. Vann served as editor and publisher of The Pittsburgh Courier until his death on October 24, 1940.

African Americans/Voices of Triumph
by Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr.
Copyright 1993, TimeLife Inc.

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