T. Thomas Fortune was born in Florida in 1856 and discovered politics and journalism as a youth due to his father being a Reconstruction politician. Fortune later became known as one of the most prominent black journalists involved in flourishing black press of the post-Civil War era. In 1881, Fortune moved to New York where he became known as he militant and maverick editor of the newspaper the “Globe,” then the
“Freeman” and then the “New York Age.” In 1900, Thomas joined Booker T. Washington to help organize the successful National Negro Business League. The two men had a close relationship and shared a common interest of the belief in black economic self-determination. Fortune was also responsible for coining the term Afro-American as a substitute for Negro in New York.
He believed that it was the most accurate term, arguing that blacks were “African in origin and American in birth.” Fortune demanded enforcement of black civil rights and attacked the growing wave of indifference toward the plight of he southern freedmen, a position he explore in his “Black and White: Land, Labor and Politics in the South” (1884).
In 1907, Fortune had a nervous breakdown and sold his newspaper. He had become disillusioned with the lack of progress made toward racial equality and for years had suffered with financial problems.
He worked as a newspaper correspondent and editorial writer at numerous papers but never achieved the same level of influence. His close relationship with Washington alsowaned. From 1923 until his death on June 2, 1928, he worked as the editor of Marcus Garvey’s publication “Negro World.”