P. B. Young and the Norfolk Journal and Guide, 1910-1954

Suggs, Henry Lewis, Corcoran Department of History, University of Virginia
Younger, Edward, Department of History, University of Virginia
Graebner, Norman A., University of Virginia

This is a study of a Virginia black journalist, Plummer Bernard Young, who for a half century edited and published the Norfolk Journal and Guide. In a limited way, this dissertation is also a study of the black press, race relations in Virginia, and the black man in Virginia politics during the first half of the twentieth century. It emphasizes Young's career up to 1954 when his influence over the newspaper began to wane. For the most part, it focuses upon Young the public man, the editor, and his newspaper. It pays close attention to what he advocated for his race. It seeks to light the path Young followed as a political man. It incidentally illuminates the dismal role the blacks played in Virginia politics during the era.

P. B. Young was born 27 July 1884 in Littleton, North Carolina, and received his early education at Reedy Creek Academy and St. Augustine' s College in Raleigh, North Carolina. He married an educated and talented woman.

He acquired the Journal and Guide in 1910 and by 1919 had expanded its circulation throughout the entire Eastern Seaboard. By 1928, the Journal and Guide had not only the largest circulation of any black-owned newspaper published in the South, but it had expanded its circulation into Connecticut, Chicago, Kansas City and Omaha. In 1940, as the Journal and Guide entered its 40th year of publication, it had never missed an issue. The Guide increased its subscribers from less than 500 in 1910 to approximately 29,000 in 1935.

The success of the Journal and Guide resulted from local interracial cooperation and from its location in Norfolk which had a stable black community that looked to "what the Guide said," not only as a reflection of local black opinions but also as a source of useful information. Although a Booker T. Washington conservative, Young came to be known as a "liberal southern statesman" and his editorials were frequently printed on the editorial pages of the New York Times and New York Herald-Tribune.

Young exerted great influence on urban politics in Norfolk, opposed lily-blackism within the Republican party of Virginia, and advocated policies at the local and state level to increase black voter participation and interracial goodwill. He evolved from a staunch Republican during the 1920s into a conservative Democrat during Franklin Roosevelt's second New Deal.

During the war years, the Journal and Guide reached unparalleled heights of growth and acceptance. In March, 1943, the Guide won its third straight Wendell Willkie award for excellence in journalism.

Young and the Guide's philosophy on race relations was often sternly repeated to his two sons: '' I am definitely opposed to frontal attack. I believe in negotiation, arbitration, conciliation and persuasion. If that does not work I resort to the courts." Young's efforts in part led to Executive Order 8802, which prohibited discrimination in defense industries, a new school for blacks in Princess Anne County, and the equalization of teachers' salaries.

World War II exacerbated race tensions in the South and many blacks complained of the slow pace of desegregation. Young urged blacks to ''close ranks'' with all Americans; war was "no time for resentment." He helped organize the Durham Conference to outline "what the Negro wants." The Durham Manifesto," a statement of policy and a summary of the Conference findings eventually led to the formation of the Southern Regional Council in 1944. Young was appointed to the new Federal Employment Practices Commission in 1943. At the time, Young and the Journal and Guide were at the height of their success and power. The circulation of the Guide exceeded 68,000 and as chairman of the Southern Conference on Race Relations and the Board of Trustees of Howard University, Young was one of the most influential blacks in America. He understood the unique problems of the South and often complained that the South equated ''equality of work opportunity with social equality."

When Civil Rights became the main political issue, the Journal and Guide supported local candidates of either party who gave "a proscribed people" hope. Young of course applauded the Brown decision of 1954, condemned massive resistance, and helped organize the Hampton Conference of 1958 to prepare blacks for integration. Young condemned any act of violence on the part of the black community. He believed the solution of many of the problems of his race lay in ordinary hard work, Christian charity, and courage. He was basically an economic conservative. Young saw his prophecy of an end to "separate but equal" realized, but he never saw the promised political break-through. He died in Norfolk, 9 October 1962, at the age of 78.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Young, Plummer Bernard -- 1884-1962, Journal and guide, Norfolk, Va

Digitization of this thesis was made possible by a generous grant from the Jefferson Trust, 2015.

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