North Carolina Recognizes Pittsburgh Champion of Black Causes

Article excerpt

More than 70 years after his death, North Carolina recognized a native son who rose to fame in Pittsburgh as a lawyer and newspaper man who championed causes important to black communities across the country.

The North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources on Friday unveiled a highway marker to honor Robert Lee Vann, who is credited with transforming the Pittsburgh Courier into a national force. Officials erected the marker in Ahoskie, Hertford County, Vann's birthplace in rural northeastern North Carolina, along the Virginia border.

"It really is quite appropriate and fitting they would recognize and remember him," said Laurence Glasco, a history professor at the University of Pittsburgh. "The man helped convert the Pittsburgh Courier into the preeminent black newspaper in the country."

Born in 1879, Vann excelled academically and earned a scholarship to Western University of Pennsylvania, now Pitt, in 1903. Vann served as editor of the student newspaper before earning his undergraduate degree in 1906. He graduated law school in 1909.

The following year, Vann took a job as lawyer for the Courier and quickly became its editor and publisher. Two decades later, it rivaled the Chicago Defender as one of the top-selling black newspapers in the country. In its heyday after Vann's death in 1940, the newspaper had a national circulation of 200,000. …