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Ted Poston

(1906—1974)


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(1906–1974), award-winning journalist, short fiction writer, and unionist.

Born Theodore Roosevelt Augustus Major in Hopkinsville, Kentucky, Ted Poston was the youngest of eight children. His parents, Mollie and Ephraim Poston, were educators, a distinction that earned his family a leadership role within the African American community and some access to the white leadership of the town. It was the family's weekly paper that started Ted Poston on his journalistic career: as a teenager he wrote copy for the Contender until it became too radical and had to be moved out of town in 1921. After graduating from the Tennessee Agricultural and Industrial College in 1928, Poston became one of many to move north, settling in New York City.

Initially employed as a speech writer for presidential candidate Alfred E. Smith, by 1929 he was writing for one of the city's African American papers, the New York Amsterdam News, where he covered such explosive topics as the Scottsboro boys trials. By 1932, when he went to Moscow to act in a never-completed Soviet film about American race relations, Poston had advanced to become the city editor for the News, a position he held until 1936, when he was fired after leading a successful effort to unionize the paper. Struggling to find work, in 1937 Poston interviewed for a position at the New York Post, only to be told that they would not hire him unless he could produce a front page story for the next day's edition. Rising to this seemingly impossible challenge, Poston got the job and worked at the Post for the next thirty-five years. As one of the first and only African American reporters employed by a white daily paper, Poston repeatedly traveled undercover to the South, where he risked his life reporting on several high-profile prosecutions of African Americans and providing early coverage of the civil rights movement. He also pursued other stories and landed exclusive interviews with major public figures; he's credited with proving that African American reporters need not be restricted to “race issues.”

In the early 1940s Poston began to write short fiction that was published in journals such as the New Republic and later anthologized in several collections of African American writing. Loosely autobiographical, Poston's stories explicitly addressed the contradictions of race in America, exploring with particular immediacy the inner costs exacted by racism upon its targets. In “You Go South” (1940), for example, he traces the psychological states “you” experience during a two-week return to the South: initially warily determined, arguing calmly with the train conductor as you are forced into the crowded Jim Crow car, you move quickly into rage and confusion, and it is only the lastminute realization that you will soon be back in Harlem that stops you from buying a pistol in helpless desperation. In one of his many childhood tales (“The Revolt of the Evil Fairies,” 1942), Poston tackles the taboo issues of class and color-based divisions within the African American community.

Ted Poston, The Dark Side of Hopkinsville: Stories by Ted Poston, ed. Kathleen A. Hauke, 1991.Kathleen A. Hauke, Ted Poston: Pioneer American Journalist, 1998.

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Subjects: Literature.


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