Despite such unfavorable odds, Savannah native John H. Deveaux established the Colored Tribune
Johnson, born in 1868, had lived in Savannah since childhood and managed other thriving business interests as well. But the success of the paper, according to historian Jeffrey Alan Turner, cannot be explained merely in economic terms. As he points out, "One does not have to look hard to find black editors in the South who spoke out too strongly against white society. . . . Deveaux and Johnson must have had a sense for when they could criticize the system—as they often did—and when they needed to be cautious."
By the 1920s the newspaper had moved from a generally conciliatory stance toward whites to a more strident voice for racial equality. It also served as a forum for the black literati. James Weldon Johnson, a prominent Harlem Renaissance writer, served as a correspondent for the Tribune in the 1920s, during his tenure as executive secretary of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Sol Johnson ran the publication until 1954, when he was succeeded by Willa Johnson, who edited the paper until 1960.
Decline and Reemergence
The Tribune faced significant competition in 1928 with the establishment of the Atlanta World (later the Atlanta Daily World), which became the preeminent black newspaper in the state; by the 1930s the Daily World had gained a national readership. Nevertheless, the Tribune continued publication until 1960, when it succumbed to a national trend in the black media by closing its doors. Industry analysts attribute this decline of the black press in part to a belief among readers that, because racial parity was at hand, black publications were no longer relevant.
During the mid- to late-1990s, the publication departed from its typical coverage to report on an ongoing police scandal in Savannah, which led to the prosecution of eleven black law enforcement officers for colluding with drug distribution rings.
In January 2006 an electrical fire scathed the inside of the newspaper's office. The community rallied around the Tribune in the wake of the fire, and Savannah State University, a historically black university, offered Tribune staff members the use of computers in its journalism department. During the week of the fire, the Tribune purchased new computers and relocated to a building owned by Robert James at 1805 Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in Savannah, where the newspaper continues its proud tradition of never missing a publication date since being reestablished by the James family.
William Robert Autrey, "The Negro Press—Southern Style Militancy: The Atlanta Independent and Savannah Tribune, 1904-1928" (master's thesis, Atlanta University, 1963).
William G. Jordan, Black Newspapers and America' s War for Democracy, 1914-1920 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001).
Henry Lewis Suggs, ed., The Black Press in the South, 1865-1979 (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1983).
Jeffrey Alan Turner, "Agitation and Accommodation in a Southern Black Newspaper: The Savannah Tribune, 1886-1915" (master's thesis, University of Georgia, 1993).
Alan Sverdlik, Cleveland
A project of the Georgia Humanities Council, in partnership with the University of Georgia Press, the University System of Georgia/GALILEO, and the Office of the Governor.