Saturday, September 13, 2014

#61 T. Thomas Fortune (100 Great Things about Jackson County, Florida)

T. Thomas Fortune
Marianna-born journalist and civil rights leader
The noted journalist and civil rights leader T. Thomas Fortune is #61 on our list of 100 Great Things about Jackson County, Florida.

Please click here to see the entire list as it is unveiled.

Timothy Thomas Fortune was born into slavery at Marianna on October 3, 1856, but was destined to demonstrate just how far Americans could rise with education, hard work, inspiration and determination. He has been called "Tuskegee's Point-Man" for his support of Booker T. Washington and the innovative programs at Tuskegee Institute (now Tuskegee University).

Based on Fortune's own memories, much about his childhood has been misrepresented by modern writers. His father, Emanuel Fortune, was a slave of Joseph W. Russ, prominent Jackson County resident. Russ not only encouraged Emanuel's education, but entrusted him with the management of his large leather tannery. (Note: Russ was the father of the Joseph W. Russ, Jr. who later built Marianna's beautiful Russ House).

Emanuel Fortune
Father of T. Thomas Fortune
When Emanuel married Sarah Jane Hires, Joseph Russ arranged for the two to live together at the home of Eli P. Moore, a leading Marianna merchant and partner in the firm of Alderman, Moore & Company. It was there that T. Thomas was born in 1856.

According to the later writings of T. Thomas Fortune, he and his parents were treated extremely well by Russ and Moore. He grew up playing with Moore's four children and later remembered that he was never treated as anything other than a member of the family during the eight years that he lived in slavery.

When the War Between the States (or Civil War) came to an end, Emanuel Fortune enrolled his son in the new public school established in Marianna by the Freedman's Bureau. He excelled in his studies and quickly gained the attention of the publisher of the Marianna Courier newspaper, Frank Baltzell.

Marianna as it appeared when T. Thomas Fortune lived there.
State Archives of Florida/Memory Collection
Just a few years older than T. Thomas, Frank likely had known the young man all of his life. Baltzell gave Fortune a job at the newspaper, starting him on a career that would lead him to heights never before attained by an African American in the United States.

T. Thomas Fortune went on to work at newspapers in Jacksonville, Washington, D.C. and New York over the years that followed. He enrolled at Howard University but was forced to withdraw after a few semesters due to financial restraints.

T. Thomas Fortune
He published his first book, Black and White, Labor, and Politics in the South, in 1883, establishing himself as a powerful spokesman for the civil rights movement. It was T. Thomas Fortune who coined the term "Afro-American" (which eventually transitioned to today's African American) and he was a leading figure in the Afro-American League.

T. Thomas Fortune cultivated the friendship of Booker T. Washington during the 1890s and became a leading advocate of Washington's visionary Tuskegee Institute (now Tuskegee University) in Alabama. He helped with the preparation for publication of Washington's landmark book The Future of the American Negro.

Home of T. Thomas Fortune in New Jersey
Courtesy Library of Congress
By the early 1900s Fortune was the chairman of the National Negro Business League. He also continued his career in journalism, becoming editor of the New York Age and The Negro World. The latter paper achieved a paid circulation of more than 200,000 under Fortune's leadership and was distributed in the United States, Canada, Europe, Africa, the Caribbean and Central America.

T. Thomas Fortune died on June 2, 1928, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Signs designating Jackson County as his birthplace stand on U.S. 90 near Sneads and Cottondale. His home in Red Bank, New Jersey, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and remains a landmark to this day.

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