Robert Lee Vann of Ahoskie, Prominent Newspaperman

A 1943 poster created by the Office of War Information about Vann. Image from the National Archives.On October 24, 1940, African American editor, lawyer and civil rights advocate, Robert Lee Vann died at the age of 59. Among the nation’s most prominent black journalists for 30 years, Vann was born outside of what is now Ahoskie in 1879.

In 1910, Vann was counsel to the incorporation of the Pittsburgh Courier and, within a few months, had become the paper’s editor. While continuing his private law practice, he remained the paper’s editor, treasurer and chief counsel until his death.

By 1937, the Courier was the nation’s largest weekly newspaper for African Americans, distinguished by its coverage of Italy’s invasion of Ethiopia, Joe Louis’s boxing career, the 1936 Olympics in Nazi Germany and columns written by black leaders such as W. E. B. DuBois and Marcus Garvey. Vann used the editorial pages to advocate for social and political reforms.

Vann also briefly served as special assistant to the Attorney General during the presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt.

The former segregated black high school in Ahoskie bore his name; that building now houses a middle school, but bears the same name.

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