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Curtis Eriksmoen, Published February 25 2012

Eriksmoen: One of first African-American editors got start in Fargo

A man born into slavery spent 10 years as a student of the newspaper business under the tutelage of a Fargo editor. Julius Taylor became one of the first African-American newspaper editors, publishing papers in Chicago and Salt Lake City.

Taylor was largely self-taught and became knowledgeable about history, politics, philosophy and religion. Through his editorials, he convinced countless African-American readers they would be better served by switching their political allegiance from the Republican Party, the party of Lincoln, to the Democratic Party.

Taylor was born in 1853 on a plantation near New Market, Va., the 13th of 14 children. His parents and many of his older siblings had been sold to different owners in the Shenandoah Valley.

Shortly after the war, Taylor moved to Philadelphia, where he lived for 12 years. In 1878, he traveled to St. Paul, and moved the next year to Fargo, where he found work as a barber. By 1882, Taylor was hired as a barber at the elegant Continental Hotel on Broadway and Second Avenue.

Soon after arriving in Fargo, Taylor met Alanson Edwards, editor of the Fargo Argus. Edwards “took an interest in developing Taylor’s political sympathies and journalistic skills.” In 1885, Edwards put Taylor in touch with Daniel Marratta, the U.S. marshal of Dakota Territory who lived in Fargo. According to Taylor, Marratta appointed him as the first black grand juror west of the Mississippi River. Even though Edwards was a staunch Republican, in 1888 he was able to land Taylor a meeting with Democratic President Grover Cleveland. I have not been able to find out what was discussed at that meeting, but soon after, Taylor became a strong advocate for Democratic causes and candidates.

While in Fargo, Taylor met Anna Emogene, a domestic from Minnesota. The two fell in love and got married. In 1889, the Taylors moved to Chicago so she could pursue her art interests at the School of the Art Institute. According to the 1890 census, Taylor was working as a newspaper editor. After Anna experienced health issues, her doctor recommended she move to “the arid and clean landscape of the Great Basin,” and mid-year of 1895 the Taylors relocated to Salt Lake City.

When they arrived, Julius Taylor launched a weekly newspaper, the Broad Ax. The first issue of the Broad Ax was published on Aug. 31, 1895, with Julius as editor/publisher and Anna as assistant editor.

Taylor focused on four themes: tolerance in race relations stressing racial equality, tolerance among all religious faiths, support for liberal Democrats and opposition to political or religious bosses. He wanted African-Americans to think for themselves, but hinted that blacks could be best served if they supported liberal Democrats.

One of the major reasons Taylor was down on Republicans was that he watched many qualified African-Americans passed over in party politics. He wrote, “It takes greed, gall and gold to get an office in the G.O.P. and these are things the colored boys are short of.” Taylor blamed white prejudice and black meekness for this oversight. One politician he admired was William Jennings Bryan, the Democratic candidate for president in 1896.

In the beginning, the Broad Ax stressed religious tolerance, which ingratiated Taylor with the Mormon majority in Salt Lake City. The first crack in this relationship appeared in April 1896 at the church’s general conference. Some of the speakers urged a closer linking of church and state and that candidates should appear before the elders to demonstrate that they were “good, noble and virtuous men.” Taylor’s distrust of the church deepened with the widespread distribution of a pamphlet in 1897 that stated “the Mormon Church was the voice of God in all things.” In retaliation, Taylor began to question many teachings of the Book of Mormon in his paper, causing Mormon businesses to stop advertising and Mormon readers to discontinue their subscriptions. Facing financial ruin, the Taylors closed the Broad Ax in Salt Lake City and moved the paper to Chicago in July 1899.

The Broad Ax only missed one month in the move. In Chicago, Taylor felt freedom to express some of his more radical views and pushed for liberal economic reforms.

Taylor realized the importance of the founding of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People on May 30, 1909. The Broad Ax was the only black-owned newspaper to give it comprehensive coverage. In 1912, Taylor and three other African-American Chicago newspaper publishers formed the Colored Press Association of Chicago.

Taylor was a constant critic of the injustice toward blacks. During World War I, he provided extensive coverage of the lynching of Negroes while “black soldiers fought for the U.S. in Europe.” Because of ill health, he ceased publishing the Broad Ax in 1931 and died on May 10, 1934.

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“Did You Know That” is written by Curt Eriksmoen and edited by Jan Eriksmoen of Fargo. Send your suggestions for columns, comments or corrections to the Eriksmoens at: cjeriksmoen@cableone.net.