The Broad Ax and The Plain Dealer Kept Utah’s African Americans Informed

Jeffrey D. Nichols

Although the 1890 census reported only 588 African Americans living in Utah—a figure that would almost double by 1910—Salt Lake City supported two black newspapers for several years during that time. Julius F. Taylor, born in Virginia but most recently from Fargo, North Dakota, edited and published the Broad Ax, a weekly newspaper, from August 1895 until June 1899 before moving with his family and newspaper to Chicago. William W. Taylor (no relation) edited the Utah Plain Dealer for at least 12 years and was active in politics and fraternal organizations.

The two men were political and journalistic rivals. Julius was an ardent Democrat, an unusual affiliation at a time when most African Americans were still Republicans and many Democrats were open advocates of white supremacy. Julius argued that the Republicans had betrayed his race’s trust since Emancipation and that the Democratic party was the race’s best hope. The Broad Ax announced that it was “advocating the immortal principles of Jefferson and Jackson; it will stand for the HONEST SILVER dollar of our forefathers, to be coined free . . . we will also strive to aid and advance the cause of the working man. . . . This paper will also contend for the liberation of the minds of the colored people from political slavery . . . .”

William Taylor was a Republican and served as the city’s deputy dog tax collector before running for the state legislature in 1896. Julius attacked William from the Broad Ax‘s first issue; he called William’s paper the “Double Dealer” and pronounced him unqualified for office and not a true representative of the colored people. The Salt Lake Herald, a Democratic paper, printed several editorial cartoons featuring racially stereotyped caricatures of William. Since only one issue of the Plain Dealer is known to have survived (in LDS Church Archives), William’s views, including his opinion of Julius and his reaction to the attacks against him, are unknown. William’s candidacy was unsuccessful, but he continued to be a prominent figure in the African-American community, publishing his newspaper and serving as president of the Grand United Order of Odd Fellows, a black fraternal organization. William’s widow, Lizzie, continued to publish the Plain Dealer for a short while after his death.

Julius Taylor’s active and outspoken editorial voice struck at his other rivals as well. He apparently had a running feud with Salt Lake Tribune editor C. C. Goodwin, calling him, among other things, a “pale-faced two-legged dung-hill rooster” who was the editor of a “well-known negro-hating sheet.” Julius was a tireless advocate for his race, attacking the popular “cake walks” and “coon songs” that he felt degraded African Americans. He frequently expressed his disgust over the treatment of blacks in Salt Lake City and in the nation as a whole. His reasons for leaving Utah are not clear; Julius had briefly resided in Chicago, and that city’s larger black population may have provided a more comfortable and supportive atmosphere for him.

Unlikely as it may seem, the two Taylors had other black rivals in the newspaper business: J. Gordon McPherson’s “Headlight,” S. P. Chambers’s “Western Recorder,” J. W. Washington’s “Tri-City Oracle,” and W. P. Hough’s “Town Talk” all appeared between 1890 and 1910.

The editors of Utah’s black newspapers participated in professional journalistic organizations. Both Taylors were members of the Utah Press Association, and Julius served as historian of the organization before moving to Chicago. These black publishers also took an active part in the Western Negro Press Association. They presented papers at meetings, served as officers, and hosted the WNPA’s fifth annual meeting in Salt Lake City in 1900. In 1899 William Taylor was elected president of the WNPA, and when the organization’s 1900 convention was held in Salt Lake City, black residents hosted receptions for the participants and took their guests on tours of the city.

The two Taylors represent the active world of the small but vibrant black community in Salt Lake City. Although they made little headway in achieving better treatment for African Americans (nor in their quest for their own offices), they insisted upon full participation in public life. Their differences demonstrate that black voters were far from a monolithic block. Rather, they argued about which party better served the interests of their race, as well as many of the same issues that divided white voters.

Sources: Broad Ax, 1895–1901; Ronald G. Coleman “A History of Blacks in Utah, 1825–1910” (Ph.D. diss., University of Utah, 1980).