Place of publication: Roanoke, VA
In 1941, Fleming Emory Alexander, printer, journalist, minister and civic leader, began publishing the Roanoke Tribune. Described in its masthead as "The only negro newspaper published in Southwest Virginia," the Tribune served communities from Virginia's Piedmont to the far reaches of Appalachia. Though his formal education ended around the fifth grade, Alexander learned the printing trade in Kentucky and went on to work for newspapers throughout the South. After serving in France during WWI, he returned to Lynchburg where he operated a private printing business and taught printing at the Virginia Theological Seminary.
The Roanoke Tribune had a rocky start, but Alexander kept the paper solvent by borrowing funds, doing print jobs and, by necessity, advertising white businesses in the area. In 1950, he started publishing the Charlottesville Tribune, and ran the Roanoke and Charlottesville editions simultaneously, though the endeavor was short lived. In August 1951, realizing he couldn't keep both papers going, he consolidated the Roanoke Tribune and the Charlottesville Tribune to create the Tribune.
Published weekly on Saturdays, each four to six-page issue included regular local interest columns like "Hollins Notes," "Buchanan News," "Crozet Jottings" and "Charlottesville Society" along with coverage of statewide, national, and international news. The Tribune often included editorials on issues such as race relations, politics, religion, employment, education, and integration. Birth, wedding and death announcements, editorial cartoons, photos, recipes, and local advertising also filled the Tribune's pages each week.
Politically, Alexander was unapologetically Democrat, and he used the Tribune as a mouthpiece to endorse the party. In 1953, as Negro Democratic Campaign Manager of the Sixth Congressional District, he threw his full support behind the Democratic ticket and urged his readers to vote Democratic. "Not only are we Democrats," he wrote, "but we are loyal, trustworthy Democrats. We are going to stick with the Democratic Party. So let every Negro who has a vote, cast it for the Straight Democratic ticket, Tuesday, November 3rd. You will be mighty glad you did."
In 1954 when the US Supreme Court ruled separate but equal schools unconstitutional, the Tribune's headline of May 22, 1954 read, "SEGREGATION DECLARED UNCONSTITUTIONAL! High Court Decrees It Must Cease." In an eloquent editorial titled, "Supreme Court Benefactors," published the following week, Alexander reminded readers that integration benefitted all southerners. "In striking down segregation in public schools," he wrote, "the court struck the shackles from the souls of all southern white people and enthroned for the first time in nearly 300 years human dignity for all mankind of this nation without regard to race, color or creed." The very Democrats Alexander helped get elected, however, were not swayed by his pleas to peacefully integrate Virginia's public schools. Instead, they led the pro-segregation charge for the next several years.
The Library of Virginia's run of the Tribune ends in September of 1957 and does not pick up again until August 1983, when the paper was called the Roanoke Tribune. According to a history provided by the Roanoke Tribune's current website, Alexander remained the Tribune's editor and publisher until his retirement in 1971, when his daughter, Claudia Alexander Whitworth, purchased the paper and filled her father's position. As of 2020, Stanley Rotan Hale, Claudia Whitworth's son, serves as associate editor.