Submitted by Barbara A. Seals Nevergold, PhD, co-founder, the Uncrowned Queens Institute
In 1827 the Black Press was launched with the pronouncement: “Too long have others spoken for us…We wish to plead our own cause.” The publication of “Freedom’s Journal” marked a movement that spread across this country and continues to the present day. In Buffalo, the history of the Black Press is carried on by two legendary papers, the “Buffalo Criterion” and the “Buffalo Challenger”. Each has an impressive history and continues to articulate the challenge established by “Freedom’s Journal”. In a city dominated by one major newspaper, we are indebted to the Black press for providing a platform that ensures our community is not held hostage to the slanted and biased reporting of that publication.
The afore-named Black Press also stands on a local historical foundation of pioneering Black newspapers. Before the “Buffalo Criterion” there was the “Buffalo American”. And before the “Challenger”, there was the “Buffalo/Empire Star”. However, before any of these papers, Buffalo’s African Americans read the “Globe and Freeman” and the “Gazetteer and Guide”. These publications established and continued a tradition of documenting the people, events and activities of the African American community while sharing the news of the day with their contemporary readers.
At the turn of the 20th century when Buffalo’s African American community numbered slightly less than 1,700 residents, one of its inhabitants was a multi-talented, ambitious newspaper man, James Alexander Ross. But Ross was not only the editor/publisher of the “Globe and Freeman” and the “Gazetteer and Guide”, he was an entrepreneur, an attorney, a real estate salesman, a politician (long before Blacks affiliated with the Democratic Party, Ross was an avid Democrat) and a community activist.
Contemporary newspaper accounts of the Phyllis Wheatley Club’s protest meeting to advocate for inclusion of the Negro Exhibit at the Pan American Exposition, named only four individuals of note: Club members, Mrs. William H. Talbert and Mrs. John Dover, Mrs. A.B. Wilson, president of the Central Union of the W.C.T.U. and Mr. James A. Ross. Ross, according to the news article, was “the well-known colored politician”. In his remarks to the two hundred people attending the rally, Ross spoke of the prejudice of the Exposition officials and declared that they had made a mistake by not appointing a colored commissioner to represent the race.
Even prior to that crucial meeting of the Phyllis Wheatley Club in November of 1900, James Ross was engaged in a plan with other Negro businessmen to capitalize on the anticipated economic benefits of the Pan American Exposition. In June of 1900, the Buffalo Express reported that a company had been formed to establish a hotel for Negroes. “The Pan American Exposition is expected to furnish a large amount of fairgoers, but it is the intention to make the hotel a permanent institution and not one merely to last during the exposition.” James A. Ross, “editor of the Globe” was named as the secretary and treasurer of this new company. Other principals of the company included, D.A. Butler, a janitor at the Marine Bank who was president of the Hotel Company and H.F. Hamilton of the Buffalo Electric Company, who was named as the hotel manager. The hotel, proposed as the “Wormley Hotel”, was slated to be ready for guests by the fall of 1900. However, it appears that the plans were never achieved as there is no record of a Wormley Hotel in Buffalo.
In spite of this apparent set-back Ross’ involvement in the Pan American Exposition continued as evidenced by his role as a spokesperson at the Phyllis Wheatley protest and membership on the Exposition Management’s Committee of Comfort. This group including Mary B. Talbert and Rev. J. Edward Nash promoted attendance at the Exposition to African Americans all of the country. There is also reason to believe that his advocacy for placement of the Negro Exhibit at the Pan Am included an active role as the Exhibit’s curator or manager. In an apparent move to respond to the push by Blacks for involvement in the exposition, Dr. Selim Peabody, Curator of the Liberal Arts Exhibit, made the following announcement in a published interview in January 1901:
“At the Paris Exposition there was a special exhibit showing the development of the Negro race in America since emancipation for which there was, a Federal appropriation of $15,000. That exhibit will be transferred to the Pan American Exposition and here is an item of news for you “it has been decided to place it under the supervision of some person, not yet designated by the Exposition Company, of the Negro race.” The name of the individual was not announced, however, even in subsequent communications from Exposition officials, but confirmation of Ross’ role in the exhibit has been found in a number or contemporary documents.
Read more about James A. Ross at www.uncrownedcommunitybuilders.com
Photo: The man in the foreground of the photo, with hat and beard is James A. Ross
The Friends of the Buffalo Story is involved in a yearlong project whose mission is to uncover and reveal the heritage-based stories of people who live along the Ferry Street Corridor. As part of this effort “The Friends” is working very closely with community-groups, who have been doing this work for many years. None has done this more effectively and diligently than the uncrowned queens institute for research & education on women, inc.
We are proud to be collaborating with them to bring you this ongoing feature during the month of February, which focuses on some of the “uncrowned community builders” who have done so much to strengthen the African-American community of Buffalo’s East Side as well as the region.
Additional “uncrowned community builders” are as follows: