Index II   1901 – 1999

 

Introduction

 

News Concerning African Americans and Other Interesting Articles contains the news of The Charlotte Gazette. This book is a continuation of an earlier edition that contains reports from the years 1873 to 1900. This news begins with the year 1901 and continues through 1999. It contains a wide array of Southside, Virginia news.

Unfortunately there is no remaining record of The Gazette from the year 1912 to 1924. This missing material would certainly contribute valuable information if added to the contents of this book.

The Charlotte Gazette is, published weekly in Charlotte County, at Drakes Branch, Virginia. The Gazette is a rural county newspaper. Since it’s founding in 1873, the newspaper has sold itself as a paper “Devoted To The Best Interests of Charlotte County – First, Last and Always.” The Gazette’s first and founding editor, Leonard Cox said, “We can easily fill up our paper with selections, but we prefer county matter, as being advantageous to our local interests.” [1/16/41]

Charlotte is a county of 12,472 residents. The population has held relatively steady since the year 1800, when 11,912 lived in it. Charlotte’s population peaked at or shortly before 1920, recording 17,540 persons. Since the 1920s the population has declined. In 1980 Charlotte County census recorded 12,266 persons.

The county’s black population has also declined. During the nineteenth century Charlotte along with the surrounding counties of Lunenburg, Mecklenburg, Halifax and Prince Edward comprised the so-called “The Black Belt.” It was called the “Black Belt” because nearly two thirds of the areas population was black. White voters feared the potential strength of the black voting majority in the “Belt.” In 1940, 42.2% of Charlotte County’s population was black, in 1980, 38.6% was black. The 2000 federal census recorded 4,102 African Americans, which is 33% of the population. Today Charlotte continues seeing a decline in its black population, primarily with the loss of younger people.

News Concerning African Americans and Other Interesting Articles pertains primarily to the African-American community. The book is a collection of important, interesting and personally relevant news. It contains all the newspaper reports ever published on the Grand United Order of Moses fraternal order. There is a wide range of general interest news including editorials, stories on the lives of individuals, organizational reports, and articles about historical sites, reports of family reunions, church news, economic activities, and information about schools.

The county’s principal economic enterprises are tobacco, beef and the logging industries. Charlotte is an agrarian community, its agriculture centers primarily on the tobacco industry. In the past, many farmers became prosperous tobacco growers. Today with the not-so-wanted help of the federal government, tobacco production is declining in the county. Logging is a big industry in the county. Trees are harvested and sent to saw mills to be shorn into lumber. Pulp is made into paper products. The logging industry provides substantial income to landowners as well as an employment base. A large number of cattle graze Charlotte’s pastureland. Beef is a big industry in the county as well.

Some subjects are followed throughout the years. The articles are informative and worth keeping. This includes all modes of transportation, but especially passenger railroads. It is good to know and interesting to see how people traveled from one place to another. It’s worth knowing that which used to be, but no longer is.

At one time most rural communities maintained community food canneries. By 1990 only five counties in Virginia continued to operate canning businesses. At one time Charlotte County maintained four canning centers, at Aspen, Charlotte Court House, Madisonville, and Wylliesburg. The cannery at Wylliesburg is the only one still in operation today. News of this kind is worth keeping. Readers will find a broad range of information in this book.

While reading the newspaper, I looked for names having some historical or genealogical connection to my own. Pertinent family names include, Davis, Hancock, Jackson, and Vaughters. Affiliated family names, though not necessarily related are: Banks, Bolden, Brogdon, Canada, Jones, Morton, Pugh, Robinson, Smith, Spencer, Walker, Wilson and Venable. Readers interested in these surnames are well served. The family and historical information in this book will invariably acquaint the reader with the author’s interests.        

What about lynching? One can see that there was a lot of lynching during the early twentieth century. When the staff writers thought news of lynching served the public’s interests The Gazette reported it. In doing so the newspaper often departed from its focus on local stories. Obviously readers were interested in lynching and wanted to know about it.

Criminal activity is compellingly interesting news, and for that reason, it too is included. Reporting crime tells something about the community. It shows the extent of crime, the types of crime, and who’s committing the crimes. So if the reader wants to know this kind of information its here.

Charlotte’s news was written by for and almost always in the interests of white readers. For many years the news reflected white public opinion. African Americans didn’t make the news very often. When they did it was usually in the context of stories seemingly larger than themselves. Blacks who were well known and generally liked by both whites and blacks apparently made news.

In the nineteenth century there was a news column aimed specifically at black readers called “To Our Colored Readers." In the twentieth century the first “colored” news column appeared on October 22, 1925 as, News of Colored Folk. This “colored” column appeared occasionally until August 1, 1940 when the column changed names to New of Interest to Colored Readers. This column continued until 1960, when most references to race ended; henceforth Notes From Moses Hall became the column. Notes From Moses Hall ended with the October 11, 1979 edition. In the late 1970s and 80s The Gazette published Happyland Corner that focused mostly on social activities occurring within the black community. Many obituaries were published within the aforementioned columns.

At times news writers recognized the passing of black citizens with words like “highly respected”, “highly esteemed”, “person of principle”, and “faithful public servants.” In those days white people did not use titles like, Mr. and Mrs. when addressing black adults. Racial etiquette coupled with an element of paternalism led whites to call older black people, “aunt, auntie” or “uncle.” Accordingly the paper occasionally marked the passing of “faithful” black citizens as “aunts” or “uncles. Sometimes whites attended the funeral services of people they considered “black friends.” When doing so, it was prudent to maintain a level of personal anonymity.  One nameless letter in tribute to a deceased “black friend” was published and closed anonymously with, “A White Friend.” [1/28/32]

The civil rights movement caused problems for the newspaper. Like most everything else, news was segregated. Most white southerners opposed racial change. The newspaper reflected the writer’s opposition. The issue of color posed problems for the writers. The conventional practice was to use the descriptive words “colored” and or “negro” when describing African Americans. Writers seemed reluctant to end this practice. Up until the 1970s writers customarily wrote racially biased one-sided stories. Staff writers were not used to giving objective racially balanced newspaper coverage. At this time the press had even less to say about blacks or the black community. It’s likely that these conventional practices caused problems and contributed to the lack of news coverage on the African American community during the 1950s, 1960s, and into the 70s.

In 1969 The Gazette managed to publish two historically important reports: one concerned the federal court order to desegregate the county school system, the other was an explanation as to how the school board planned to meet the court’s requirements. Prior to the court’s ruling Charlotte followed a “freedom of choice plan.” Charlotte County maintained dual school systems, with two high schools. Randolph-Henry was the traditionally segregated all white school, while Central was all black. Under the freedom of choice plan, parents selected the school of their choice. Under the plan, Randolph-Henry experienced some integration, while Central saw none.  Nonetheless, during the 1960s news coverage of African Americans had essentially ended. Little to nothing was said. The newspaper reads as though black people hardly existed. Consequently the kind of news I looked for was simply not there! A slight improvement occurred in the late 1970s. By 1978 The Gazette was publishing obituaries of all persons without regard to race or their standing in the community.

The black community began receiving greater news coverage in the 1980s. In 1984 Mt. Ellis and St. Michael Baptist became the first churches to have their Black History Month programs documented by the newspaper. Two years later The Gazette itself began publishing articles in recognition of Black History Month. The newspaper was taking more interest in what was occurring in the African American community and reporting it.

Much can be learned from The Charlotte Gazette. It is a newspaper that reflects the county’s politics, its economy, institutions and culture. News Concerning African Americans and Other Interesting Articles contains a lot of information. I believe its reports will prove to be valuable to those interested in reading the news from a small town, rural newspaper. Few sources give the kind of focused extensive coverage to rural black life as this book does. I hope this book will inform and satisfy the curiosity and interests of the reader.

 

 

 

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