Author: Rand Dotson

who is senior acquisitions editor at Louisiana State University Press and the author of Roanoke, Virginia, 1882—1912: Magic City of the New South (2007)
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Roanoke Weekly Press

The Roanoke Weekly Press was Roanoke City’s first black newspaper, founded early in 1891 by John H. Davis, a wealthy African American businessman, philanthropist, and Republican political activist. The paper first appeared as an afternoon daily called the Press; several weeks later, it was moved to a weekly publication schedule and renamed the Roanoke Weekly Press (RWP). The paper was staunchly Republican in political orientation, reflecting its readership’s deep antipathy toward the all-white Democratic Party in late nineteenth-century Virginia. Davis owned and edited the paper, which he published in different lengths on a periodic basis, often suspending publication for several months between issues. The only extant copy of the RWP is its fifth issue from 1892, which appeared on April 2 that year. Although some sources indicate the paper continued publication until 1897, it is more likely that it ceased operations in 1892. Davis left no personal or business papers behind, making details of his life difficult to discern. Even less is known about his newspaper, which remains an obscure and largely forgotten enterprise.

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Progressive Movement

The Progressive movement in Virginia was a series of efforts by early-twentieth-century residents to correct what they perceived as problems or deficiencies in government, business, and society. Their work was part of a national reform movement that existed from late in the 1890s until the United States entered World War I in 1917. Progressive reform in Virginia had many parallels with its national counterpart, but like the rest of the movement’s southern manifestation, it also varied from it in important ways. Nationally, Progressives sought to expand democracy, aid victims of industrialization, bring order and efficiency to government and business, and impose morality. State reformers, by contrast, showed little interest in social uplift or racial justice, or in increasing democracy or furthering workers’ rights. Instead, they focused on adjusting government and society in ways that both safeguarded the existing social and racial hierarchy and provided order, stability, and economic progress. In Virginia, the movement’s participants were predominately urban white professionals, businessmen, educators, church leaders, and politicians; or their wives and daughters. Although the state’s reformers had a variety of aims, they worked primarily on restructuring the electorate; improving public education; modifying cities in ways that made them more healthful, efficient, and orderly; upgrading roads; and enacting prohibition of alcohol. They achieved these and other reforms by successfully lobbying government officials for new laws, oversight agencies, and funding measures. While Virginia’s Progressives more often than not worked together on their various causes, like reformers elsewhere in the nation, they also occasionally disagreed about the practicality of specific solutions. Those being reformed—typically poor white and African American residents—opposed many of the movement’s efforts but lacked the political power to block them.

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