The Joplin Advance

Over the years, Joplin was home to many newspapers: The Advance, the Evening Times, the Free Press, the Globe, the News-Herald, the Labor Record, the Missouri Trade Unionist, the Morning Tribune, the Daily News, the Southwestern, and the State Line-Herald. These are just the ones that survived for posterity. There were other papers published in Joplin that, due to neglect, the ravages of time, and lack of interest, did not survive. Editors and owners may have thrown the bound volumes in the rubbish bin, fires may have destroyed them, or they simply crumbled away over time, printed on poor quality paper. There are, for example, no known surviving copies of the Joplin American, the paper that Thomas Hart Benton worked for when he lived in Joplin. There were also many local papers, such as the intriguingly named Carterville Rocket, that did not survive, either.

Of the papers that did survive and are captured for all time on microfilm, only one Joplin paper represented the interests of the city’s African-American population, the Joplin Advance. The Kansas State Historical Society collected and preserved the sole surviving issue of the Advance, allowing us a very limited look at the sole African-American newspaper in Joplin.

The first issue of the Joplin Advance was published on Friday, May 10, 1895. It was four pages in length. The first page bore the following greeting:

“Salutatory:

We have come among you to stay and assume a part of the responsibilities of the citizens of Joplin and vicinity. We will say that we have to profess to make except to do all the good we can and the least harm possible, advocate nothing but [missing word] Republican principles, for the promotion of the general welfare of the Negro race and his friends.

In order for the colored people of Joplin and the surrounding towns to maintain and keep the ADVANCE from going to the walls, it is necessary for them to read every advertisement of the merchants very carefully and patronize only those. The fact is, that no business man wants to advertise in any paper unless he expects to be benefited thereby. The advertisements [sic] is the back bone of a newspaper and, unless a merchant is benefited by advertising in a colored paper, as a matter of fact, he will not advertise. We regret to say, that our people cannot afford to maintain their press, and if we expect to have a newspaper in our midst, we must patronize the merchants who advertise in, and extend a friendly hand to our enterprizes [sic].

In looking over the broad field in this county with an eye singular to the prosperity of our people, we can see a great chance for an improvement, political, socially, and otherwise, and we firmly believe that, if we can bring about the state of things by the publication of a first class patriotic Negro newspaper, dedicated to the purpose of bringing the two races closer together, linking the Negro race in a better union, concentrate our forces, morally, socially, politically, intellectually, and otherwise, we will accomplish a great good, especially among the more ignorant whites as well as the blacks, if they will only read our paper.

W.L. Yancey.”

The rest of the paper was what we would consider today to be AP wire reports, save for one page which mentioned local events, and had a few paid ads for Joplin businesses such as Mack the Tailor, Jones Confectionary, and the Golden Eagle Clothing House. Notably, the ad for Jones Confectionary stated, “Dealer in Candies, all kinds of Fruit, Nuts, and Soft Drinks. It is the only place where colored people can be accommodated to an Ice Cream Parlor. 519 Main Street.” [Emphasis added]

African-Americans in Joplin could find out when services were being held at the M.E. church, the A.M.E. church, and St. John’s Baptist church. Those interested in fraternal organizations could find meeting information for the Masonic Myrtle Lodge No. 149, the Guiding Star Court, and the Knights of Pythias Lodge No. 11.

Most importantly, though, due to segregation, blacks were often at a loss with regard to knowing which businesses they could and could not patronize. The Advance pointed out which businesses catered to African-American clientele, and although we cannot be sure, would surmise that most of the businesses they recommended were owned by fellow African-Americans.

James Mason, driver of general job wagon no. 57, was recommended for one’s moving and delivery needs and one could visit any of three barber shops for a shave: the I.X.L. Shaving Parlor [516 Main Street], the Imperial Shaving Parlor [320 Main Street], and G.W. Potter’s [106 Main Street]. Laundresses Miss Mary Edwards [First Street], Mrs. Graton [620 Joplin Street] Miss Eva Door specialized in laundried collars, cuffs, and shirts. Should you want a new dress, Mrs. Brisco McLerore could be found at 120 Pearl Street. For boarding, Mrs. Lou Barnett offered lodging on Seventh Street “between Kentucky on Penn. Ave.”

The man behind the paper was African-American W.L. Yancey. In addition to being the editor and owner of the Advance, he was also an attorney. In his first “salutatory” message to readers, Yancey asked his fellow African-Americans to support the paper, lest it fail. He knew that whites would not subscribe to his paper; instead, they would read the “white” papers in Joplin. He also knew that advertising was crucial to the newspaper’s success. But advertising in a black newspaper, particularly for white businesses in a city with a small black community, was not advantageous or attractive. Even neighboring Springfield, with a sizable black population, could not sustain its own African-American newspaper.

Curiously, the 1895 Kansas State census lists William L. Yancey and his wife Clara as living in Pittsburg, Kansas. The census itself was taken in March, 1895, just two months before the Advance was first published. It also explains why there is a small smattering of Pittsburg, Kansas, news on the front page. Yancey may have been trying to bridge the gap between the black communities in Joplin and Pittsburg with his paper. He listed his occupation as “newspaperman” while wife Clara was a “housekeeper.” They lived in the midst of white families.

The 1900 Federal census tells us that William L. Yancey lived in Joplin [south of Broadway on Central Avenue] at that time. His occupation was listed as attorney and his wife, Clara, had “printer” as her occupation. Were they still publishing the Advance? Or did Clara just work as a printer? Because only one single issue of the Advance survived, we cannot be sure how long the paper lasted. If you check the city directory, however, Yancey is not listed which shows that one must always check every source available. Still, we are left with questions: Where did Yancey attend law school? There were African-American lawyers in Springfield who attended Howard University. Did Yancey go to Howard? Why did he move to Joplin?

Yancey did not remain in Joplin. Perhaps frustrated by the lack of opportunity, he moved on, and eventually divorced Clara. She later died in 1963 in Michigan.

Sometimes searching the census can be a challenge, as with Yancey and the 1910 census. He may or may not appear in the 1910 Federal census for Yakima, Washington. If it is him, the census taker wrote down the wrong middle initial and identified him as a “white” “lawyer.” Yancey was listed in previous censuses as either black or mulatto. Is it possible he tried to pass for white? Or is he just hiding out in the census and this is a different William Yancey? Census takers could and would make mistakes.

At any rate, we do know that by 1920, he appears to have remarried, and settled in Yakima, Washington. Fifty-one years old, both Yancey and his wife were working as “janitors” in a “business building.” In 1930, he is missing from the census, but his wife Hannah is listed as divorced.  Yancey may have passed away, or may have simply eluded the census taker where he lived.

His story is illustrative of the challenges African-Americans faced in American society in the time between Reconstruction and the Civil Rights movement. Yancey, once an attorney and newspaper editor, spent his later years working as a janitor. Were it not for the Kansas State Historical Society preserving the single surviving issue of his paper, we would have never known his story, nor the fact that once upon a time Joplin had its own African-American newspaper.

If you ever come across an old Missouri newspaper, you may want to call the State Historical Society in Columbia and ask if they have it. If not, by allowing them to microfilm the paper, you could help preserve Missouri’s history. Who knows – maybe someone has a copy of the Joplin American featuring one of Thomas Hart Benton’s cartoons waiting to be found!

Christmas Ads From Yesteryear

As the memories of this year’s Christmas begin to fade, we’ll take one last look back at Christmas in Joplin.  Below are a series of ads from Joplin papers, and if one thing is evident, the commercialization of Christmas isn’t a recent innovation.  Click on the images to see larger versions.

Perhaps the most restrained ad, courtesy of the Joplin Furniture Company.

Sedwick's Furniture of Webb City makes sure you notice its suggestions for Christmas.

Christman Dry Goods Company offers unique Christmas art with the procession of three bears on a lead.

Close up of the bears from the Christman ad.

Christman Furniture advertises a Christmas sale event, not to be missed!

A rather simple trunk factory ad.

Further holiday art.

A Belated Merry Christmas!

Joplin’s Own Kit Carson

A.W. "Kit" Carson

A sketch of Carson from a 1890 photograph.

Local newspaper baron Alexander Washington “Kit” Carson was one of the most influential individuals in the early development of Joplin. While he was not a capitalist like Thomas Connor, Carson left his own indelible mark on the city he called home.

The red-headed Carson was born near Cadis, Ohio, in 1842. During the Civil War, he served with Company C of the Forty-Third Ohio Volunteer Infantry. After the war ended, he headed west, and taught school at Marshfield, Missouri. Carson left Marshfield a few years later and arrived in Joplin where he began publishing the Joplin News-Herald in February, 1877. Years later Carson, a lifelong bachelor, was still living in his apartment located in the News-Herald building located on Fourth Street. He could often be seen sitting outside the building in a chair reading his old paper. Carson’s friend John Power was an early resident of Joplin and recalled both Carson and the glory days of Joplin’s journalism community in a newspaper article.

The Joplin Daily News Herald Office, circa 1902.

Together with Columbus “Lum” Farrar, Carson founded the Joplin News-Herald, and soon became sole owner after Farrar found journalism to be hard work. Carson bought out Farrar’s interest in the paper and remained sole proprietor. He put in long hours as the News-Herald was the morning paper. Carson stayed up all night furnishing the copy, proof-reading, making up forms, and then printing the paper on an old Washington hand-crank printing press. By the time he sold the paper in 1888, the News-Herald had become “hard to kill” with a first rate printing press and loyal readership. After he sold the paper, he became known for his eccentric, yet gentle personality.

Power related one story in which Carson had a number of young calves in his lot. A man passing by happened to see the calves and asked Carson if they were for sale. Carson replied that they were. The man offered $7 for each calf and Carson agreed to sale them. The buyer then told Carson he had to go uptown to get cash and would return shortly to pay for the calves. Upon the man’s return, he began to feel the calves. Carson, suspecting the man was a butcher, asked if he was indeed a butcher. The man replied that he was. Carson replied, “You haven’t money enough to buy those calves…I would about as soon allow children to be killed.”

On another occasion, Carson sold some pedigreed hens worth $2-$5 apiece to a woman for only 25 cents apiece, thinking that she would use them for eggs. He stopped by the woman’s house a few days later only to discover that she had eaten all of the chickens. Carson, in tears, remarked that had he known she was going to eat them he would have kept them, as he had hand-raised the chicks after they were orphaned.

He also had a soft heart when it came to his friends. Power recalled on one occasion when the two were out in Carson’s buggy and stopped to visit one of Carson’s old friends. The men talked briefly and then Carson pulled away, remarking that his friend’s coal bin was empty. Carson’s next act was to order a ton of coal and have it delivered to his friend’s residence.

Upon Carson’s death, Peter Schnur (who would die the next year) remarked, “Although we were business competitors, he was one of the closest personal friends I had. The squarest man in business, honest, trustworthy, companionable, fearless but gentled, the heat of campaign nor the struggles of business competition never affected the strong friendship between us.” He ended by observing, “Mr. Carson was a man of peculiarities.”

And peculiar he was. In his will, A.W. Carson specified that $1,000 of his money be spent on the dissemination of Mark Twain’s “How to Be a Gentleman.” The only problem was is that no such work existed.

Mark Twain

Mark Twain, whose non-existing idea of a gentleman was the focus of Carson's will. Library of Congress.

A few days after Carson’s will was read, Twain was asked about his advice for the young after he finished a speaking engagement at the Majestic theater in New York City. He remarked how the subject often came up, “Here is such a request,” Twain said, “It is a telegram from Joplin, Mo., and it reads: ‘In what one of your works can be found the definition of a gentleman among the young.”

Twain declared he had never attempted to define a gentleman, but added, “I might say that a gentleman was – well, a biped who is not a lady. That might take it all in, but it seems to me that there was a verse read here from the Bible about justice, mercy – what was that third one? yes, kindness, Oh, yes, kindness.”

He then concluded by offering a few remarks about his former servant Patrick McAleer who had recently passed away. Twain concluded, “In all the long years Patrick never made a mistake. He never needed an order; he never received a command. He knew. I have been asked for my idea of an ideal gentleman, and I give it to you – Patrick McAleer.”

As for A.W. Carson, he left behind many friends who were faced with one last peculiar act of an eccentric man who did much to contribute to the success of Joplin.

Sources: Joplin Globe, Joplin News-Herald

The Joplin American

Joplin is home to Thomas Hart Benton’s gorgeous mural, “Joplin at the Turn of the Century.” It’s rare to find someone in Joplin, or even the Tri-State region, who does not know of Benton’s affiliation with Joplin. Born April 15, 1889 in Neosho, Missouri, he spent his youth in Southwest Missouri. As a young man in his late teens, he arrived in Joplin and soon found work as a cartoonist at the Joplin American newspaper. Unfortunately for Benton, the Joplin American was a short lived enterprise. Financed by A.H. Rogers, the founder of the Southwest Missouri Railway, the paper folded. It later moved to Ft. Smith, Arkansas, where it continued on under a different name.

 Although his motives are unclear, Rogers, a Republican, most likely wanted to create a paper to counter his Democratic rival, Gilbert Barbee, who controlled the Joplin Globe. The two were political and business foes until Rogers quietly purchased the Joplin Globe out from under Barbee’s in 1910, silencing his rival for a short time. Barbee, never one to rest on his laurels, tried to launch a second paper after he lost the Globe. His second paper, the Joplin Morning Tribune, ran from 1911-1913, and often made sharp jabs at Rogers and the Globe.

However, the heyday of Barbee’s political and journalistic power was over. The Morning Tribune was shut down and Barbee went into retirement, spending time at health resorts across the country, and only periodically returning to Joplin. Upon his death in 1924, he left a generous bequest to the citizens of Joplin.

Today the name Gilbert Barbee is little remembered, save for his time as owner of both the Joplin Globe and the House of Lords, but he may have helped spark the birth of a short-lived newspaper that employed an aspiring artist who went on to become one of Missouri’s most famous sons. Ironically, no issues of the Joplin American newspaper are known to exist, but should you know of one – let us know.