The Faces of the African American National Biography
Courtesy of the Ohio Historical Society/African American Museum.
Born a slave in Florida, T. Thomas Fortune eventually made his way to New York City in the 1880s, where he worked as the editor of the New York Age, the most influential black newspaper of its day. A militant advocate of black civil rights, Fortune established the Afro-American League, a precursor of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. An uneasy ally of Booker T. Washington, Fortune supported Washington's efforts in education and economics, but resisted Washington's attempts to control both him and his paper. Breaking with Washington over Washington's support of Theodore Roosevelt's actions in the 1906 Brownsville Incident, Thomas sank into financial troubles and suffered a breakdown, after which he lost control of the Age to Washington's allies. For the last decades of his life, Fortune fought poverty and alcoholism, working as a journalist and as an editor of several short-lived newspapers. In 1923 he took over the editorship of Marcus Garvey's Negro World (though Fortune never joined Garvey's Universal Negro Improvement Association) and by the time of his death in 1928 had largely restored his reputation as one of the greatest early black journalists in U.S. history.