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Warrior Wilbert 'Bill' Tatum: 1933-2009

ALTON H.MADDOX JR. | 4/12/2011, 4:39 p.m.

"We wish to plead our own cause. Too long have others spoken for us." These words were a part of the first editorial in Freedom's Journal on March 16, 1827. Freedom's Journal was this nation's first Black newspaper and it was started in New York City before New York had abolished slavery. This was also before David Walker published his pamphlet "Walker's Appeal to the Colored People of the World" in Boston on Sept. 28, 1829. He was the distribution agent for Freedom's Journal in New England. Walker advocated violence to overthrow slavery. White abolitionists stayed clear of him.

The governor of Georgia placed a price on Walker's head and Louisiana ordered all free Blacks to leave the state. Walker had been born a "free" Black in Wilmington, N.C. He was assassinated in 1830 after he had refused to flee the United States and seek sanctuary in Canada.

Black journalism advocating the abolition of slavery was the forerunner to Blacks in politics and Blacks in law. Macon B. Allen became he first person of African ancestry to secure a license to practice law in the United States. Maine admitted him to its bar in 1844. In 1847, Allen became the nation's first Black lawyer to secure a judicial appointment.

John Mercer Langston was admitted to the Ohio bar in 1854. The following year he would become the first Black elected official in the United States, thanks to his association with Ohio's Liberty Party. Langston organized Howard Law School and became the first Black congressman from Virginia.

Frederick Douglass understood the potency of the First Amendment, including the rights of free press and free speech. He and Martin Delany copublished the North Star. From this platform, Douglass became the most vocal advocate for the emancipation of persons of African ancestry. One year after the formation of the North Star, Douglass would headline the first Women Rights Convention at Seneca Falls, N.Y. in 1848. In connecting the dots, a comparative analysis of Wilbert "Bill" Tatum with Robert Williams, author of "Negroes with Guns," is appropriate. These fellow North Carolinians joined the military to defend the Constitution and spent a lifetime enforcing it. For Blacks, this is still a capital crime. They supported the NAACP. Both men would prove that "the pen is mightier than the sword."

Against this backdrop and including but not limited to the journalistic pens of T. Thomas Fortune, Ida B. Wells, Monroe Trotter, W.E.B. DuBois and Marcus Garvey, Tatum had some big shoes to fill when he seized control of the New York Amsterdam News in 1983. It was founded in 1909. Three years later, Tatum would enjoy his finest hour in journalism when he launched his weekly "Koch Must Go" campaign in the New York Amsterdam News. Despite his civil rights credentials, Mayor Edward I. Koch expressed utter contempt for persons of African ancestry. Tatum's column would ignite the end of Koch's political career. United African Movement's weekly marches in Bensonhurst, after the assassination of Yusuf Hawkins, would be the final nail in Koch's political coffin. Koch fell to the political mat in September 1989 and he was unable to bounce back in time to beat the vote count.