Influential Black Newspaperman Robert Lee Vann

On August 29, 1879, Robert Lee Vann born was born in Hertford County. Vann attended Waters Training School in Winton, graduating as valedictorian. In 1903, he received a scholarship to Western University of Pennsylvania where he completed college and law school and served as the first black editor of the student journal.

In 1910, Vann became counsel to the incorporation of the Pittsburgh Courier and, within a few months, became the paper’s editor. While continuing his private law practice, he remained the paper’s editor, treasurer and chief counsel until his death. By 1937, the Courier was the nation’s largest weekly newspaper for African Americans. It became distinguished for its national and international coverage and columns written by black leaders such as W. E. B. DuBois and Marcus Garvey. Vann used the editorial pages to advocate for various social and political reforms.

Vann died at his home in Pittsburgh in October 1940 and is buried at Homewood Cemetery in that city. A Liberty ship named after him was launched just three years later in 1943. The former segregated black high school in Ahoskie bore his name; that building now houses a middle school under the same name.

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