Black Quotidian: Everyday History in African-American Newspapers

April 24, 1954

Guest post by Mark Fowler, undergraduate student at Iowa State University.

On April 24, 1954, an editorial was released in the Chicago Defender commenting on a story from Baltimore where hotel owners in the city had refused to follow the orders of the governor of Maryland to allow black visitors to room at their hotels. Governor Theodore R. McKeldin made this order because a year before in 1953 the St. Louis Browns had moved to Baltimore and became the Baltimore Orioles, and thus the need to accommodate the players, some of whom were black, was needed. As pointed out in the editorial, Baltimore was the only city with a major league baseball team in which all of the hotels in the city prohibited African Americans. At this time in the history of Major League Baseball, all of the teams were located in the Northeast and Midwest; the most southern team in the league was the St. Louis Cardinals, so at this time most teams were located in cities that were more integrated than other parts of the country.

In the editorial Charles D. Harris, an attorney representing the hotel owners, says that they believe that the hotels will lose money if they were to begin to allow African Americans to reside there. The author of the article writes, ”We do not think Mr. Harris knows what he’s talking about in this regard.” The author believes the whole idea of white people refusing to stay at a hotel because black people are staying there or have stayed there is preposterous and that the Chicago Defender believes that white people in Baltimore are more intelligent than that.

This article is interesting as it talks to the non-black residents of Baltimore and asks them if they are all right with the hotel owners pushing their views on the whole city. “Actually Baltimoreans should resent the presumptuousness of Mr. Harris who has taken it upon himself to represent them as being so prejudiced and un-American that they would refuse to patronize a hotel simply because it admits a Negro guest or two.” The Chicago Defender believed that many Baltimoreans did not agree with the hotel owners but had not had the chance to voice their opinion, and the paper is disappointed that the hotels are representing the city as backwards and racist. It is also interesting that the paper does not come off as angry but more as disappointed in the city and the hotel owners. It is sad to read this paper today, as one can tell that the authors of this editorial have seen stories like this many times and they are only disappointed. It shows how much inequality was present at the time of this publication.

After reading this article and many like it from black newspapers, one gets a new perspective on the lives of African Americans leading up to the civil rights era. Many assume that for African Americans the North was much better than the South, and this is mostly true, but this article shows that the North still had its problems and African Americans were not treated as equals in the North either. In the same year as this publication, the Supreme Court ruled on the case Brown v. Board of Education, and although it did not solve the problem of inequality in America, a problem that this country is still working on, it was black newspapers like the Chicago Defender that brought issues of segregated hotels and schools to the public’s attention and made change possible.

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