INT: Tell me about the first day you ever worked
for black newspapers.
EM: I went to Los Angeles shortly after I
graduated from high school and it was 1941, ah, and, ah,
went to work at The Los Angeles Tribune, a small tabloid
newspaper. And, of course, I was a general assignment
reporter, had to run all over Los Angeles and do all kinds
of stories about music, about murders, about any kind of
news. Ahm, it was exciting. I had to come back and, ah,
the editor, ah, Almena Lomax, was a very, very hard
taskmaster. It -- I worked all day and -- but I loved it.
INT: How did it feel as a young girl to work for
EM: It was exciting. I -- I just thought I was
almost as happy as I needed to be because you met exciting
people, famous people, and Los Angeles was always a city
where everything happens. And you really didn't need
anything else, just the excitement of the city.
INT: Was there a need for black papers in LA?
EM: There was a need, as I see it, from every
angle in every place in America, particularly cities.
Remember, Charlotta Bass had The California Eagle long
before I went there. And it was absolutely necessary in
order to get the black story or interpretation of even news
out. Remember, it -- there've always been, ahm, situations
where we never get our point of view expressed. Without a
black newspaper, it was never going the happen. It doesn't
happen today. You know that. Therefore, there was a need
and black people always filled that need from way back from
the beginning in 1827 when you had your first Freedom
INT: What do you know about Charlotta Bass?
EM: I knew that Charlotta Bass was a very famous
woman, not only as a newspaper person, but as a politician.
Remember she ran for Vice President, I think, on the
Socialist ticket, just about around that time. So,
obviously, just the idea of being in a situation where you
would run into or meet a person like that, for a young woman
like me, a young girl, ah, was exciting and was something
that I looked forward to. And it made me more ambitious to
do things myself as a journalist.
INT: Did you grow up reading black newspapers?
EM: I grew up reading black history because my
father was an AME preacher, ah, and we moved around a great
deal. Ah, ended up in West Virginia, where they used Carter
G. Woodson's The Negro in Our History, published in 1922.
And so quite early I got my, ahm, grounding in -- in the
INT: Did your family read black newspapers or no?
EM: Well, my sister edited a little paper in
Uniontown, Pennsylvania back in the 1930s. When she
graduated from Wilberforce in 1936, then her first job
was, ah, editing The Courier Digest, a little tabloid in
Uniontown, Pennsylvania, not very far from Pittsburgh.
INT: What was the purpose of Freedom's Journal?
EM: Freedom's Journal was a necessity, ah,
because there was no way black people were ever going to be
able to get their message out to the general public without
putting their own spin, as we would call it today, but their
-- from their own perspective telling the story of their
experiences in America. Ahm, as they -- as -- as we went
along, even before the Civil War, we had a 150-odd
newspapers that came into being, didn't necessarily last
long, but they were getting the message out about what blacks
perceived, what they wanted, what they needed, what they
intended to do about their own situation. Ahm, I -- I -- I
think you, ah, have looked at, say, the copy of the Mystery
and at the top it -- ah, the masthead says, "And Moses was
learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians," and which was
to say that black people were admonished to study, to
educate themselves, even though there weren't permitted to
go to school. And so the newspaper was the communication
vehicle that we had. And it is even today.
INT: Tell about Ida B. Wells as a newspaper
EM: Ida B. Wells started very young, at 16, in
Memphis, Tennessee. She had her own newspaper and she, ah,
like all of her, ahm, people of her time, knew that black
people were not being presented fairly. And so she, of
course, set about to tell the story the way she knew it
should be told and she was so bold and courageous and she
came right out and -- and, ahm, attacked the white press and
public for their shameful deeds. Some of her friends were
lynched for no good reason and, of course, we know as a
result of that, she was driven out of town. She had to come
North, where, of course, in Chicago she kept up the fight.
Newspapers -- black newspapers have always had only one
purpose, and that is to advocate and to fight for the God-
given rights of black people and all black newspaper people
know that and that's why they exist.
INT: What was the special purpose of the early
EM: During the 19th century, before the end of
slavery, the only purpose was, ah, for free people who were,
of course, the newspaper people, to do whatever was
necessary to bring their brethren out of slavery. They
refused to leave, as you know, and, ah, they had to stay
here and fight and fight for their humanity, which was
denied to them and their brethren. That was the purpose and
they knew that, ah, ah, no matter what else they did, unless
there were, ah, able to make it clear to the public that
black people were not satisfied, they were not happy slaves,
they were not happy to see their brethren in slavery, and
they had every right, ah, to have a -- the pursuit of
happiness and the protection of the government for which
they were paying taxes and for which they had given their
lives in the wars.
INT: What happened after you worked in LA and
came her to get a job on the Courier?
EM: I didn't have a lot of difficulty getting a
job on the Courier. I simply went in and asked, ah, to be
hired. It just happened that at that time the woman's
editor, Julia Bumry Jones, had a stroke and they needed
someone to go to her house and take her column down. Well,
I was a very fast typist, so I went to her house and she
dictated her column to me, ah, and I worked there with her
until she died. Ahm, during the later months of her life, I
really wrote her column because she wasn't able. I opened
the mail and she said, "You know what to say." And so I'd
just go ahead and do her "Talk of Town", bring it down to
the Courier office.
INT: What kind of news did you do?
EM: Oh, well now, in the beginning Julia Jones
was known all over the country as the -- the leading
columnist. Her "Talk of Town" was as famous as any column
you've ever heard.
INT: Did you like doing "Talk of the Town"?
EM: No, I didn't like ... I started working at
the Courier for Julia Bumry Jones, who was the society
editor. But it was not my intention, ah, to make myself a
society editor. I didn't like the weddings, the teas, the
parties, but, of course, I had to do that because that was
my job. I did it for several years. After Julia died,
stayed there a little while until Tokie Shock came in
from Boston. And, ah, one day I just got sick and tired of
doing it and in the meantime I had been talking to Wendell
Smith, who was the city editor, and I just yearned to be
over there with the fellas doing the news -- the murders,
the all kinds of -- the fires, everything that went on in
the community. And he had told me, "Well, you can work for
me if you want to. I'd be glad." So one day I was in a
terrible mood because I had to sit there and do these
weddings and parties, which I hated, and I decided I was not
going to do it anymore. It didn't occur to me that I needed
permission to move, so I started moving everything out of my
desk, which was on the other side of the editorial room,
over to the city desk, where Wendell Smith was in charge.
And I was -- I was so angry because I had to do this that,
ahm, I was -- I was really crying and moving my things. And
Mr. Nunn came out of his office. He was the managing editor
of the Courier. And he said, "What are you doing?" I told
him, "I'm moving my things over to the city desk. I am not
going to work over here anymore because I am sick of doing
this kind of thing." And he said, "Well, who told you you
could move?" I said, "Well, Wendell said I could work for
him, so I'm moving." (Laughs) "Come in my office, young
lady," he said. And then, of course, he read me the riot
act, how I had no business moving myself, I did not give
myself a job. Well, the long and short of it was the fact
that he looked and he laughed and he said, "Anybody with
that much GD nerve will make a good reporter. Go on over
there and work," and that was it. (Laughs)
INT: What was their nickname for you?
EM: Well, my name was Chapelle, so they called
me Chappie, but most of the time they called be Scoop
because I was young and they played tricks on me all the
time. But, in fact, they -- they all liked me and they took
me with them.
INT: Tricks like what?
EM: Oh, send me lookin' for a left-handed wrench
one day or something in the press room and, ah, they gave me
-- my assignments were the morgue and they knew I was afraid
of dead bodies, but I had to go there and examine and I had
to go, ah, with them, with Ted Goldman, Johnny Taylor, that
gang, ah, to the murders and I'd have to step over the
bodies and it gave them a great laugh 'cause they could see
that I was frightened. But I got used to it and became a
very hard-nosed reporter. And I did everything the same way
the fellas did.
INT: What was it like to be the only woman
EM: It didn't bother -- working at the Courier
with men on the city desk didn't bother me at all because
I'd grown up with three boys and I learned to fight for
myself and to hold my own all my life. And I'd always then
been able, ah, to do whatever I needed to do with no thought
of gender. Ah, my parents did not raise us to make special
privileges for the girls as opposed to the boys.
INT: Was World War II an opportunity for women at
EM: I think it -- ahm, during the war years many
opportunities opened up for women in every field. Ah, it
was a matter of necessity. Probably because of the demands
of the war on the men to be gone, then women needed to fill
in the gap. And, ahm, I think that, ah, women brought a
different perspective and it was important then to -- to
have that done. Then, more important, I had worked a year
on a newspaper and I could write when I went to the Courier
and I knew I could write. Therefore, it didn't make any
difference being a woman if you could write. I sat on the
desk for years and wrote the headlines and checked the paper
and rewrote everybody's copy and it had -- didn't have a
thing to do with being a woman. It was a matter of being
competent to do the work.
INT: Talk about how it felt to be in that big
EM: The one exciting thing about the Courier was
that every day when you looked up, there was somebody comin'
up the steps -- A. Philip Randolph, Jackie Robinson, Roy
Campanello, ah, Lena Horne, you name it -- Mary McCleod
Bethune -- anybody who came to Pittsburgh. And everybody
came to Pittsburgh because of Robert L. Vann and The
Pittsburgh Courier. Then you saw those famous people all
the time. I remember particularly Chief Anderson, who
trained the 99 (Unintell.) Squadron, and there was always --
to me, I thought he was just a fine-looking man and "Oh,
there's Chief Anderson." And, of course, the fellas would
say, "Well, you just get -- just stay away. You're just a
little girl, remember." Ah, but it -- it was an exciting
time. It got to the place after ten years that you became
kind of jaded and I really didn't pay attention if Thurgood
Marshall came in or -- or, ah, anybody else that was famous.
I thought, "Oh, well, that's every day at the Courier."
INT: Tell about the Double V Campaign.
EM: The Double Victory Campaign was, I think,
probably the most, ahm, ah, exciting aggressive program the
Courier engaged in during the time I was there. It was
because we had always been fighting for victory at home as
well as abroad, but when this young fella Thompson came up
with the idea of the Double Vs, victory at home and victory
abroad, it fit right into all that we lived for and, in
fact, at Courier there was so much enthusiasm and loyalty to
our cause that we knew that all of us had to engage in that
fight every day for Double Victory. We didn't like going
downtown paying the same price for a ticket and have to go
upstairs in the theater. I had to do that. I didn't like
it because I went around to restaurants. In one particular
instance I had an assignment to go all over town and on the
outskirts and go into restaurants where I knew I couldn't be
served, but in fact I had to go through that. Well, that
was worse that fighting a war. We were at war all of the
time in the United States, not only in Pittsburgh. The
Courier was the chief advocate, I think, but, ah, actually
it was war all of the time and though our brothers and
husbands and, ah, sons ever overseas fighting, we had to
INT: What were the repercussions of the Double V
EM: As a result of the Double Victory Campaign,
actually we made many enemies, ah, because, as I've, ah,
stated, we were at war and in war you don't have friendly
relationships. You're out to kill each other. And so
that's the way it was with the Courier. We were trying to
kill Jim Crow and racism and the lynching that was going on,
that had gone on all during the century, and the unfair
barriers that were put up, ah, ah, for our people. We could
not go and teach school. We couldn't do any of the things.
Now naturally we made a lot of enemies. We lost a lot of
advertising. We couldn't get it. There was talk, ahm, in
the plant, in among the employees about the FBI
investigating all newspapers. They wanted to shut us down
because we were doing something which held the whole United
States of American government up to the ridicule of the
whole world. How can you go somewhere and fight for
democracy when you have people that you are oppressing by
law at home? Citizens that are guaranteed every right are
bein' denied that right on a daily basis.
INT: How serious did the government look at the
threat of what the black papers were doing?
EM: Actually during that period when the Courier
was pursuing the Double Victory Campaign, it was seen as a
great threat to America. And there was effort -- the
efforts were made, we know, by J. Edgar Hoover to if they
could not, ah, change the -- the stories in the paper, ah,
tone them down, they would -- actually would shut them down.
And, ah, because, obviously, our people were accused of
being traitors. Now what they didn't seem to understand,
that we were very -- we had every valid reason to fight for
full citizenship at home if we were expected to give our
lives overseas. It didn't make sense not to do that. Now I
don't see it ever as a -- of a notion of not bein'
patriotic. It is certainly patriotic to look after, ah,
your own self-interest, which is what everybody in the world
does all the time.
INT: Tell me, in brief, about the discrimination
series you wrote right after World War II.
EM: After the war we still had many battles to
fight at the Courier, the restrictive covenants, the
inability of the government to enforce equal rights laws
that were on the books since 1935. So I was assigned by
P.L. Prattis, the city editor at that time, to go out and do
a series of stories on how you were treated when you went to
a restaurant to be served. Ahm, I went because I had to,
ah, but it was an excruciating experience. Ahm, I -- I
would go in a restaurant and try to sit down at the counter
and ask for a cup of coffee and I would be told, "Why, we
don't serve coffee here. We don't have any coffee." That
was pretty hard to take. Ah, then I would go somewhere
else, maybe in Clariton in a restaurant or, ah, one of
the surrounding towns and be told, "Well, if you lived
around here, you'd know better than to come in here because
we don't serve black people in here," "negroes", they would
say then. And so it continued for several weeks. I'd come
back to the Courier and write the story of exactly what
happened, what they said to me, and they certainly were
never nice things. And when I went home at night, I was
just so hurt I would cry myself to sleep. But then I knew
to be a hard-nosed reporter and to do my share for the
cause, my part for the cause. The cause was the elevation
of our people to what they were entitled to. I felt very
good about it. I felt I was doing what I needed to do.
INT: Then what happened after you wrote the
EM: Yes. After writing those articles, ah, then
people would be called into court and we would take them to
court and they would then be held, because they violated the
law, and it would hit them in their pocketbooks. We broke
down discrimination in Pittsburgh many years before the
Civil Rights Movement started in the South, doing the same
INT: Talk about the blood and guts of the black
EM: The black press has oftentimes been accused
of being sensational, but we were fighting the kind of
battle that, ah, could not be clean and pretty. We were
dealing with the reality. When you had people being lynched
all over the United States, we had to show the bodies
hanging from the trees. On the, ah, other hand, when people
were brutalized even in the black community, there was no
reason that it should be hidden. And, then again, we were
competing, ah, and did not, ah, have access to the resources
that, ah, white newspapers had. Obviously, we didn't get
the advertising from the corporations, ah, until much later
and we -- and so, therefore, we had to sell papers. And
sensationalism still sells newspapers.
INT: Who advertised in the black newspapers?
EM: Black newspapers had to make their, ahm -- to
-- to make their profit primarily off circulation. And, you
know, that's not the way it's done. Ah, obviously, the
Courier, with its courage and boldness, ah, fighting against
what white people in fact were keeping in place --
segregation, discrimination, bias, ah, ah, all kinds of
barriers to our people and their progress -- obviously did
not like it. And you can understand that. So, therefore,
they did not advertise in The Pittsburgh Courier to the
extent that we would like to have had -- had happen. Ah,
but their, ahm -- I don't know if anyone knows much about
it, but they formed their own, ahm, group, consortium.
EM: See, I believe the black press was so
precious and important, ah, to our people, ah, because they
took the responsibility of trying to lead people, ah, in the
right way. That is to say, ah, putting forth always a
message of, ahm, of elevation, not -- and responsibility,
not only for yourself, but for all those people around you,
because we realized we were all in same boat together. No
matter if you had a PhD, you were still being treated the
same way as the man on the street who was a janitor. And it
was the black press that had to bring the community
together. It was, ah, the glue, I think, in many cases.
With the exception of the church, no institution did more
for the elevation of black people than the black newspaper.
INT: Talk about the effect of the black press
bringing the community together.
EM: The mission of the black press was primary to
inform and to give guidance, ah, to the whole community and
to bring the community together. Now there was no way the
community could work together unless they understood what
their mission was and how they could go about, ahm,
achieving their goals together because it was absolutely
imperative that we all, ah, felt responsible for the whole
community. I know as a young newspaper person, I felt as
though I was responsible for every black person in the
world, (Laughs) not only in Pittsburgh. So everything we
did had to be geared toward what would it do to elevate our
people. And the black press, I think only -- only the black
church can we see as a more unifying force than that of
the -- of the black press.
INT: Talk about the effect of such intellectual
people writing for the black press.
EM: Well, there were several reasons that, ahm,
we had, ah, such and effect on the population, blacks as
well as the white population, because the intellectuals, our
great writers like Langston Hughes and George Schuyler and,
ahm, all of our historians, our -- our -- our leaders in
every phase of life had a way in which to reach the public.
Now they weren't given that much opportunity in the white
press. You know that. So then there was provided an
opportunity for us all to, ah, take advantage of and be
blessed really by those great minds and those great artists,
ah, like even a Paul Robeson would express himself in the --
in the black press.
INT: Why did the black press decline?
EM: Oftentimes people wonder why the black press,
Courier and others, have, ah, not the circulation and do not
have the same effect that they used to have. Well, that
happens in everything. Once you achieve your goals and you
have specific goals as -- as the black press had, was to
acquire full citizenship for blacks, and we do have laws now
that protect us, then you've outlived your purpose and
there's nothing for you but decline. What has happened as
that over the years then after blacks got the laws on the
books, they got the schools open, they got the job
opportunities, then there was not the crying need, ah, for
the kind of journalism that -- that the black press
INT: Why wasn't it perfect?
EM: We have to understand that the black press
certainly was not perfect, and I, too, think that, ah, we
engaged in perhaps too much sensationalism. Ah, the murders
were always on the front page and the blood and the gore,
but it was the reality and the -- besides the cause, the
cause, which was -- which was so important, there was a
necessity to make money. And, ah, I -- while the black
press, ah, ah, can not be completely excused for that kind
of, ahm, sensationalism, and that was, of course,
oftentimes, ahm, taken far beyond where it should have
ended, ah, but in fact it was understandable given the
necessity to gain the resources from the general public and
not from advertising sources.
INT: Why did we need a black press?
EM: We needed a black press because there was no
way to get out story out to the general American public. We
certainly couldn't continue to talk among ourselves. We had
a right to get our story out and from our own perspective.
Without a black newspaper, it could never have been done.
INT: When you were growing up, how were black
people covered in the white newspapers?
EM: We have always been covered in a negative
sense in the white newspapers. That's understandable
because they're concerned with promoting themselves and
their own best interest. We had every right to do the same
thing. So we had to have a vehicle by which to do it, and
that was the press.
EM: When I went to Los Angeles I was just excited
about meeting Charlotta Bass, who was not only a great
journalist, but a politician. You remember she ran -- she
ran for Vice President. I think she was the first black
woman in America to get into national politics in that
manner. And, ah, The California Eagle was a very highly
respected newspaper. And, ah, my sister, of course, worked
for the newspaper first and also for The Chicago Defender as
a West Coast correspondent. I wanted to do what my big
sister did. (Laughs)
INT: Sounds like there were a lot of women
working in the black press.
EM: There were a lot of women in California who -
- who just were not bothered by the kinds of barriers that
seemed society erected for them. They were courageous women
who made their own way and ah -- and lived according to what
they wanted to do. They were not at all, ahm, ah, people
who were afraid to break down the barriers that other people
put in the way.
INT: Why in California?
EM: Well, maybe it's the, you know, "Go West,
Young Man, Young Woman", and the spirit of adventure
because, remember, in that period, ah, California was just
developing. Los Angeles was just growing to be a large
metropolitan area. And the opportunities were there and,
ahm, that's why, of course, ah, we went West.
INT: What was happening in LA at that time?
EM: When I went to Los Angeles, ah, it was --
ahm, it was a growing metropolis. Actually black people
were moving there in droves because they had heard about all
the opportunities, to say nothing of the wonderful weather.
And, ah, so, ah, I think that I was really fortunate to get
there at that time. Blacks were going into business, all
kind of business, and, of course, newspapers then were
INT: Why were so many women in LA in newspaper
EM: Los Angeles was, ahm, a new community and I
think there was the notion that, ah, women had more
opportunity there. Ah, maybe it had to do with the, ah,
notion we had in America about the Wild West, go West for
opportunity, to seek your fortune and that kind of thing.
And I think we were all sort of imbued with that, that kind
of idea. And it drew us to the West Coast for new adventure
and new careers.