T. (Timothy) Thomas Fortune was born a slave and largely self-taught, but he went on to become one of the most influential African-American journalists of the late 19th and 20th centuries. Fortune was born October 3, 1856 in the town of Marianna, Fla. The Emancipation Proclamation freed his family, and led to a brief moment of prosperity. Fortune’s father was a Reconstruction Era politician in Jacksonville, but was ousted from his post after white conservatives purged his position.
This would be one of the early moments that formed Fortune’s militant leaning. As a teen, Fortune worked as a page in the state Senate and also as a printer’s apprentice. These experiences would further shape Fortune as he saw firsthand how racism and segregation flourished. At 19, Fortune entered Howard University but only attended briefly. Moving to New York in 1881, Fortune went from being a printer to co-founder and editor of a series of newspapers aimed at the Black community.
In 1884, he co-founded The New York Freeman newspaper and released his first book, Black and White: Land, Labor, and Politics in the South. In 1890 in Chicago, Fortune co-founded the militant National Afro-American League. The League only lasted for four years until it was renamed to the National Afro-American Council in 1898 with Fortune as president.
The group was formed to speak out against the inequality between Blacks and whites. The New York Freeman was also renamed to The New York Age with Fortune as its co-owner along with his brother Emanuel Fortune Jr., and Jerome B. Peterson. The New York Age was considered the premier paper of its time for African-Americans and featured the writings of W.E.B. Du Bois and other prominent voices.