Poet Biographies

Timothy Thomas Fortune: The Trailblazing Poet and Activist

Timothy Thomas Fortune was a prominent 19th-century African-American poet, journalist, writer, and civil rights activist. Born into slavery, he became a leading voice against racial injustice.

Timothy Thomas Fortune Portrait

Timothy Thomas Fortune was a pioneering African-American militant journalist, editor, and poet who used his writing to raise awareness for the rights of black people in America. The 19th-century poet was born into slavery in Marianna, Florida. He escaped this situation by fleeing to New York, where his career and reputation were able to flourish. Fortune quickly became involved in the black liberation movement, and he soon established himself as a leading voice for black rights.

Timothy Thomas Fortune’s poetry was renowned for its passionate verse that exposed the issues and suffering of black people in America. He spoke out against lynching, segregation, and other forms of racial discrimination.


Early Life

Timothy Thomas Fortune was born in Marianna, Florida, in October of 1856. His parents, Emanuel and Sarah Jane Fortune were enslaved at the time of his birth, meaning that he, too, was born into slavery. Fortune began his education at the first school in Marianna for African-American children after the end of the Civil War.

Education

A few years later, the family moved to Jacksonville. Here he attended Edwin M. Stanton School, an institution that would later become Stanton College Preparatory School. In 1869 Fortune’s father was elected as one of two African-Americans to the Florida House of Representatives. There was a massive backlash from the Ku Klux Klan, forcing the elder Fortune to flee the area for a number of months. In his absence, Timothy Fortune, who was only thirteen years, became the man of the house.

Over the next years, he worked as a page at the state senate and as an apprentice at a local newspaper. He also spent time at the Marianna Courier and the Jacksonville Daily-Times Union. It was these early experiences with the newspaper business that paved the way for his later career at The New York Age, which was formally known as The New York Freeman. The paper was one of the most influential Black newspapers of its time. Before a successful career in writing and publishing, though, he worked as a mail route agent in 1874, then later as a customs inspector. He resigned from this position so that he could attend Howard University. Before this point, his education had consisted of three years of formal instruction.

Fortune was unable to finance an entire course of study at the university and left after a year. During this period, though, he did complete law courses before changing his focus to journalism. After leaving school, he found work at the People’s Advocate in Washington, D.C. It was in 1880 that Fortune took his chance and moved to New York City, which marked the start of a period that would result in him becoming one of the leading African American journalists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Early Publishing Career

Over the next decade, Fortune published the works of African-Americans who were frustrated with the two-party system and the treatment of freedmen. In 1881 he became the editor of the New York Globe. The publication was an African-American-founded tabloid that was formerly known as Rumor. In 1886 he published The Negro in Politics. This work spoke out against the treatment of African-Americans by the Republican Party. These opinions, which were contrary to those of Frederick Douglass, lost him control of the paper. This did not stop his career, though.

Activism

In 1890 he was elected chairman of the executive committee of the National Afro-American Press Association. In the same year, he founded the National Afro-American League, a militant organization focused on righting the wrongs perpetrated against African-Americans. They focused on instances in which the law authorized such behavior. Unfortunately, this organization only lasted for four years before falling apart. He was also associated with the Niagara Movement and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

It was reformed in 1898 in New York with the name National Afro-American Council. Fortune became the president in 1902. His term lasted until ’04, when he was succeeded by William Henry Steward. Other prominent African-American leaders were part of the organization. These included Booker T. Washington, Ida B. Wells, and W. E. B. Du Bois. The National Afro-American Council is credited with paving the way for the Civil Rights Movement and the NAACP.

The New York Age

In the 1890s, Fortune was the co-owner of the New York Age. Under his leadership, alongside Emanuel Fortune, Jr., and Jerome B. Peterson, the newspaper became the most widely read of all papers aimed at an African-American audience. One of its prominent features was the editorials written by Fortune himself. They were filled with calls for action against discrimination and demands for equal rights for all African-Americans.

In 1898 he published the book, The Kind of Education the Afro-American Most Needs. Dreams of Life: Miscellaneous Poems followed in 1905. Shortly before his period, Fortune moved to Red Bank, New Jersey, to his home in Maple Hill. Fortune’s health was failing in the early 1900s, in part due to his continual drinking and to a nervous breakdown he suffered in 1907.

Famous Poems

Timothy Thomas Fortune has published a wide catalog of iconic poems. Some of his most famous poems include ‘Beyond the Veil,’ ‘The Black Man’s Doom,’ and ‘Every Man a King.’

Later Life and Death

During the later years of his life, Fortune published The New York Negro in Journalism and became an active participant in the Republican party. In 1923 he became an editor of the Negro World, a paper published by the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League. The paper had a large circulation, reaching somewhere around 200,000 people in the United States and Canada and even reaching into the Caribbean and Central America.

Timothy Thomas Fortune died on June 2, 1928, at the age of seventy-one, in Philadelphia. He is remembered today as a visionary whose writings are as important as those of Frederick Douglass and integral to those still to come.

Influences

Like any great poet, Timothy Thomas Fortune’s poetry was inspired by the likes of Edgar Allan PoeWilliam WordsworthJohn KeatsPaul Laurence Dunbar, Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington, and W.E.B. Du Bois.

FAQs

When was Timothy Thomas Fortune born?

Timothy Thomas Fortune was born in Marianna, Florida, in October of 1856. He was born into slavery to his parents, Emanuel and Sarah Jane Fortune.

What was Timothy Thomas Fortune’s poetry style?

Timothy Thomas Fortune’s poetry style was a blend of traditional and modern elements. He was influenced by the sonnet form, but he also experimented with free verse. His poems often dealt with themes of race, social justice, and the African-American experience.

What was Timothy Thomas Fortune’s most famous poem?

Timothy Thomas Fortune’s most famous poem is ‘The Black Man’s Doom.’ It was first published in 1885 in his collection of poems, The Black Man’s Doom and Other Poems. The poem is a powerful and moving expression of Fortune’s views on race and social justice.

How did Timothy Thomas Fortune change Journalism?

Timothy Thomas Fortune changed Journalism as he brought great attention to issues faced by African-American citizens. He worked for New York Age which was a prominent newspaper led by Black writers during the 19th century.

How did Timothy Thomas Fortune die?

Timothy Thomas Fortune died on March 2, 1928, at the age of 74. He died of heart failure at his home in New York City.

Emma Baldwin Poetry Expert
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Emma graduated from East Carolina University with a BA in English, minor in Creative Writing, BFA in Fine Art, and BA in Art Histories. Literature is one of her greatest passions which she pursues through analyzing poetry on Poem Analysis.
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