on Black History
Thomas C. Fleming
Entertainers on Vaudeville
Stowaway to New York
in Harlem, 1916-1919
Garvey Comes to Harlem
with Fats Waller
Rise of Black Professionials
to New York
Relations in a Small California Town
Times in Chico
Klan Marches in California
Black Press in the 1920s
Day President Harding Died
Musicians and Early Radio
- The Great Experiment
Fleming, "Good Soldier" Of
Francisco's Black Press,
From Sun-Reporter At 89
FRANCISCO Thomas C. Fleming, the longtime executive editor of Reporter
Publishing Company, Northern California's leading chain of African American
newspapers, announced his retirement in July from his day-to-day duties
at the company. He will continue to write articles from his home, but will
no longer keep office hours or take part in newspaper operations.
who turns 90 on November 29, was the founding editor of the Reporter newspaper
in 1944, then San Francisco's only black paper. He remained as editor when
it merged several years later with the Sun to form the Sun-Reporter. He
has been writing for it ever since. Over the past 53 years, his only absence
from its pages was during a seven-month span in 1945, when he served in
the U.S. Army.
is still the Sun-Reporter's most prolific writer, penning three articles
a week that total about 2500 words the lead editorial, the "Weekly Report,"
which concentrates on human rights issues, and "Reflections on Black History,"
a memoir which he began during Black History Month of 1996.
the death of celebrated columnist Herb Caen last January, Fleming inherited
the title of San Francisco's longest-running, continuously active journalist.
A bachelor who lives alone, he keeps pace with the news by digesting four
newspapers a day the San Francisco Chronicle, the SF Examiner, the Oakland
Tribune and the New York Times.
with a prodigious memory, Fleming has been brushing shoulders with history
for most of his life. Out of the 100 most significant African Americans
of all time, as described in Columbus Salley's 1993 book, "The Black 100:
A Ranking of the Most Influential African Americans, Past and Present,"
Fleming has met 45, including Martin Luther King Jr., W.E.B. Du Bois, Charles
Houston, Thurgood Marshall, Malcolm X, Paul Robeson, A. Philip Randolph,
Langston Hughes, Mary McLeod Bethune and Duke Ellington. Some, such as
Robeson, became personal friends.
a visit to his modest apartment, surrounded by his beloved history books
and jazz collection, Fleming revealed that he didn't originally plan on
a newspaper career, because when he completed high school in 1926 and moved
to the San Francisco Bay Area, there were practically no opportunities
for black journalists. In fact, no daily paper in the Bay Area hired a
full-time black reporter until 1962, when Ben Williams got the nod from
the Examiner thanks to a recommendation from Tom Fleming.
plunged into community journalism in the early 1930s as an unpaid writer
for the Spokesman, a black paper that supported the general
strike of 1934, which shut down waterfronts all over the West Coast.
"We were aware of what working conditions were on the waterfront before
the strike was called," Fleming said in his resonant, high-pitched musical
voice. "Blacks could only work on two piers in San Francisco. The rest
of them ? if you even went near them, you might get beat up by the hoodlums.
And there were only two shipping lines that you could ship out to work
the strike, there were some vigilante
groups patrolling the entire Bay Area. ... Apparently they were displeased
with some of the editorials we were writing, because we came to work one
morning and all the plate glass windows were smashed out. They had gotten
inside and smashed the keys on the keyboard of our Linotype machine, and
they pasted up a note: `You niggers go back to Africa.'"
paper went out of business soon afterward, but Fleming kept his hand in
journalism by hosting a radio show, "Negroes in the News," and writing
a column for the Oakland Tribune, "Activities Among Negroes."
real break came in June 1944, when a "chance meeting with a guy on the
street" led him to an interview with Frank Logan, a local black businessman
who was planning to launch the Reporter and needed an editor. Fleming was
were up in arms about the hiring practices in the shipyards and other war
industries," Fleming recalled. "And the Key System, which operated the
transit system in Oakland, would not hire any black bus drivers or streetcar
operators. . . . so I started writing editorials saying that if blacks
could drive those big army rigs, they could drive those buses on the street
too. They were demonstrating in front of the Key System's office, carrying
placards denouncing Jim Crow practices in hiring. So apparently somebody
with them started reading our paper, because the first thing I knew, I
received greetings from my draft board."
he was the sole supporter of his invalid mother, and two years over the
draft age limit of 35, Fleming's deferments were cancelled. A woman at
the draft board told him in confidence, "They don't like those editorials
best friend, dating back to 1935, was Carlton Goodlett, who, at Fleming's
urging, moved to San Francisco in 1945 after completing medical school,
and set up an office near the Reporter. Dr. Goodlett's soon-flourishing
medical practice allowed him to invest in the paper. Then one night, in
a poker game, Goodlett won the newer Sun newspaper from its owner, a white
businessman, and combined the two.
the early 1950s, Goodlett had become the Sun-Reporter's publisher, a platform
he used to become one of the most influential civil rights activists in
San Francisco's history.
the decades that followed, up until Goodlett's retirement in 1994, he and
Fleming took turns writing the newspaper's editorials. Noted Fleming: "He
never told me what to write and I never told him what to write."
died earlier this year, and was honored by having the block in front of
City Hall officially renamed 1 Carlton Goodlett Place.
the 1960s, the Sun-Reporter acquired the California Voice, an Oakland-based
black paper founded in 1917, and launched seven weekly Metro Reporter newspapers,
which expanded the Sun-Reporter's reach throughout Northern California.
estimates that over the years, his output has been 2000 to 3000 words a
week, or about seven million words in print. In his career, he has attended
nine national political conventions, met two presidents and gotten to know
most of the leading political figures of California.
paper has always been committed to civil rights and complete equality,"
he explained. "I think that's been the primary goal of the black press.
It was our stated goal to attain first-class citizenship, and to be a watchdog
for whatever injustices based on racism occurred ? to let the world know
felt that blacks had to have an editorial voice. And I think that's why
black papers are in existence all over the country. If the white papers
covered all the different facets of black society the way they do white
society, there wouldn't be a black paper in existence."
the Sun-Reporter's old building in the Fillmore District, a few blocks
from Fleming's apartment, Fleming arrived every afternoon, holding court
in the downstairs office, greeting people as they entered, reading his
papers and receiving many phone calls and visitors. But in late April,
when the newspaper moved across town to the Bayview District, now the city's
largest African American neighborhood, Fleming realized it was a good time
to retire. Amelia Ashley-Ward, who took over as publisher after Goodlett's
death, is now solely responsible for the paper's management.
whether he had achieved everything he wanted out of journalism, Fleming
responded with no regret: "I guess I did, with the exception of the pay
level. But I was a good soldier. I was more interested in accomplishing
one of my goals ? to see that we had a black newspaper here in San Francisco.
I never did think about the income as much as other people might have thought.
Because my needs were very simple, because I lived alone, and as long as
I could take care of my personal needs, and purchase all these books through
the years, and the records and things like that, that's about all I wanted
out of life."
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