Reference Entry

Barber, Jesse Max

Ralph E. Luker

in African American National Biography

Published in print January 2006 | ISBN: 9780195301731
Barber, Jesse Max

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journalist, dentist, and civil rights activist, was born in Blackstock, South Carolina, the son of Jesse Max Barber and Susan Crawford, former slaves. Barber studied in public schools for African American students and at Friendship Institute in Rock Hill, South Carolina, where he graduated as valedictorian. In 1901 he completed the normal school course for teachers at Benedict College in Columbia, South Carolina, and afterward entered Virginia Union University in Richmond. There Barber was president of the literary society and edited the University Journal. In 1903 Barber earned a bachelor's degree and spent the summer after graduation as a teacher and traveling agent for an industrial school in Charleston, South Carolina.By November 1903, Barber had moved to Atlanta to accept an offer from a white publisher, Austin N. Jenkins, to assist in launching a new literary journal, the Voice of the Negro, which was addressed to a national audience of African Americans. Initially listed as the journal's managing editor, Barber joined J. W. E. Bowen of Gammon Theological Seminary as coeditor by March 1904. Bowen was a senior figurehead, however, and Barber served as the operative editor. Peter James Bryant, Joseph Simeon Flipper, and Henry Hugh Proctor, all prominent Atlanta pastors, were associate editors. The Voice of the Negro was a monthly periodical of high quality, carrying articles by such major figures as John Edward Bruce, W. E. B. Du Bois, T. Thomas Fortune, Archibald H. Grimké, Pauline Hopkins, Kelly Miller, William Pickens, WILLIAM S. SCARBOROUGH, Mary Church Terrell, and Fannie Barrier Williams. Although the journal offered little fiction, it featured the poetry of William Stanley Beaumont Braithwaite, Benjamin Brawley, James David Corrothers, and Georgia Douglas Johnson, as well as the art of John Henry Adams and William E. Scott.Barber and the Voice of the Negro were engaged in the struggle between, on the one hand, Booker T. Washington's advocacy of industrial education for African Americans and Washington's accommodationist approach to racial politics and, on the other hand, W. E. B. Du Bois's insistence on the full exercise of civil rights by African Americans and a classical education for a black elite. The first issue of the Voice of the Negro included an article by Booker T. Washington, and Washington's secretary, Emmett Jay Scott, served as the journal's fourth associate editor until August 1904, leaving after Barber objected to Washington's editorial interference. The Voice of the Negro's anti-Washington tone became more evident early in 1905 with the publication of W. E. B. Du Bois's attack on “hush money” used by Washington to control the black press, accompanied by an editorial attack on the “downright soulless materialism” of the Tuskegeean's policies. Washington struck back with complaints to the journal's white owners, who had also published his autobiography, Story of My Life and Work. In September 1905 the Voice of the Negro endorsed the Niagara Movement organized by Du Bois, Barber, and others to protest African Americans' loss of civil rights. Four months later, the journal endorsed the Georgia Equal Rights League, which had similar objectives. Voice of the Negro was under attack by Washington-allied black journalists, such as Benjamin Jefferson Davis of the Atlanta Independent and T. Thomas Fortune of the New York Age. In June 1906 the journal's white owners offered the Voice of the Negro for sale just as it reached its maximum circulation of 15,000 in sales and subscriptions.From 22 to 26 September 1906 white mobs swept across Atlanta, brutally attacking black people in the streets. Once white civilians were under control, the police entered the black community and disarmed its defenders. On 23 September John Temple Graves of the Atlanta Georgian telegraphed an account of the riot to the editor of the New York World, placing total blame on the African American community. Barber replied with a letter to the editor of the World blaming the racial sensationalism of venal politicians and the yellow journalism of men like Graves. Barber's letter was signed “A Colored Citizen,” but white Atlantans discovered the name of its author and gave him a choice: leave town or face severe legal retribution. Barber fled the city, taking the Voice of the Negro with him to Chicago, where he continued its publication as The Voice for a year. In October 1907 the journal was sold to T. Thomas Fortune and ceased publication.After the sale of The Voice, Washington's intervention cost Barber positions as editor of a newspaper, the Chicago Conservator, and as a teacher in Philadelphia. Barber discussed the possibility of launching a periodical for John E. Milholland's Constitutional League and addressed a session of the National Negro Political League, which was organized by William Monroe Trotter, John Milton Waldron, and Bishop Alexander Walters in 1908 to challenge Republican hegemony among African American voters. In 1909 Barber attended the National Negro Conference in New York, which led to the founding of the NAACP. When Du Bois began editing the organization's journal, The Crisis, Barber served as a contributing editor for three years.Choosing a career in which Washington could not pursue him, Barber entered the Philadelphia Dental School of Temple University in 1909. He graduated in 1912 and began practicing dentistry in the city. In 1912 Barber married Hattie B. Taylor, a Philadelphia public school teacher. After her death, he married another teacher, Elizabeth B. Miller.Barber served as vice president and then president of the Philadelphia branch of the NAACP in its first decade. During the 1920s he was also a member of the NAACP's national board of directors. In 1922 Barber and T. Spotuas Burwell began a series of annual journeys to John Brown's grave in North Elba, New York, and organized the John Brown Memorial Association with the intention of garnering resources for a monument in honor of the famous abolitionist. As president of the association, Barber delivered the dedication address at a service at which its monument was unveiled in 1935. Barber continued to practice dentistry, and he engaged in little public activism after the dedication. Nine months after the death of his wife, Barber died in Philadelphia.

Reference Entry.  1106 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History

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