Roscoe Dunjee (1883–1965) was an American civil rights activist, journalist, and editor in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. He founded the Black Dispatch in 1915, the first black newspaper in Oklahoma City, and used it as a platform to support civil rights and reveal injustices. Long active in the local chapter of the NAACP, in 1932 he brought together several chapters to found the state chapter or branch of the NAACP. He served as its president for 16 years, and was also on the national board of the NAACP.
June 21, 1883
Harper's Ferry, West Virginia, United States
March 1, 1965|
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, United States
|Occupation||journalist and civil rights activist|
|Education||Oklahoma's Colored Agricultural and Normal University (now Langston University)|
Dunjee was a leader in Oklahoma City, using his newspaper to advance racial integration in housing, university admission, education, transportation and other public accommodations. He worked for fair jury selection and against lynchings.
Roscoe Dunjee was born June 21, 1883 in Harpers Ferry, Jefferson County, West Virginia. His father was Reverend John William, who worked at Storer College, a historically black college,, and his mother was Lydia Ann Dunjee.
His family migrated to Oklahoma in 1892, as his father was representing the Baptist Home Missionary Society. Roscoe had a brother, Irving, and three sisters, Ella, Drusilla, and Blanche. In 1903, when the young Dunjee was 20 their father died.
He returned from Langston College, a historically black college in Langston, Oklahoma that then emphasized technical and industrial trades. Dunjee had learned to set type by working after hours in the print shop of The Langston Herald, a small community paper. Dunjee took on the responsibility of earning a living to support his mother and a younger brother and sister. The family farm had produced vegetables for the family. Young Dunjee decided to enlarge the operation and become a truck farmer, selling directly to the public. He also worked as a bellhop at the Stewart Hotel in Oklahoma City, but looked for more opportunities. He educated himself also by reading widely in his father's 1500-volume library.
Interested in the growing movement of black fraternalism, Dunjee joined the Pythian Grand Lodge and began lecturing in its behalf throughout the state. He also enlisted new members, and his reputation as an organizer grew. When Dunjee was traveling throughout Oklahoma, he could see the difficult conditions of black migrant sharecroppers and tenant farmers. Not only was the Negro unable to earn a living wage, the state had passed discriminatory laws related to segregation of transportation and other public accommodations. Dunjee began thinking seriously about establishing a newspaper that could tell the Negro story and reply to white racism.
In 1915, when he was 32 years of age, he had a chance to purchase a job printing plant from Oliva J. Abby, an instructor in the Oklahoma City public schools, whose printer husband had become ill. He founded his own newspaper, the Black Dispatch, the first black newspaper in Oklahoma City. He used this as a platform to publish editorials against segregation and report unfair treatment of blacks. The newspaper grew from a local publication to a national one, at one point boasting nearly 20,000 subscribers. Dunjee would regularly report on lynchings of blacks in both Oklahoma and Texas.
He worked to change voter laws that prohibited or constrained black voters from the polls. Oklahoma's new 1908 constitution, passed after statehood, had raised barriers to voter registration, effectively disenfranchising blacks and other minority voters. It joined former states of the Confederacy across the South in taking such action. In 1916 the state passed a grandfather clause that enabled white voters to escape certain restrictions related to literacy. Dunjee's efforts contributed to court challenges; ultimately lawyers of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) overturned the grandfather clause in the US Supreme Court case Guinn v. Allwright.
Dunjee publicized the murder trial of Jess Hollins. He was a black man arrested for the rape of a white woman, to which he confessed without having seen counsel. He was rapidly sentenced to death four days after the alleged attack in December 1931. Dunjee reported on the case, supporting an appeal. The judge said he moved fast because he feared another Tulsa Race Riot, as had taken place in 1921. The state court ruled that Hollins deserved a jury trial. He was convicted by an all-white jury in 1934 and again sentenced to death. The case was appealed to the US Supreme Court, which ruled in Hollins v. State of Oklahoma (1935), that the systematic exclusion of blacks from the jury had been grounds for reversing Hollins' conviction. It directed a new trial. Hollins was convicted by another all-white jury and sentenced to life in prison. He died in 1950, and is now widely believed to have been innocent.
In 1916 the Oklahoma Board of Commissioners passed an ordinance forbidding black residents from moving into a house on a block occupied by at least 75% white residents. Dunjee funded the cases of several black residents who were attempting to integrate areas not zoned for blacks. William Floyd was a black shoemaker who purchased a home in a majority-white neighborhood. Floyd was jailed four times for attempting to occupy his newly purchased home. Dunjee bailed Floyd out each time and encouraged him to return to the home. In this period the US Supreme Court ruled in Buchanan v. Warley (1917) that racially discriminatory state and local ordinances for housing were unconstitutional. A judge in Oklahoma ruled the state law was unconstitutional on those grounds.
Dunjee was active in the NAACP, the Oklahoma Youth Legislature, the National Negro Democratic Association, and the Negro Business League. He played a vital role in desegregating Oklahoma State University in 1948 (Rummel).
Dunjee never married, nor had any known children. Although he sold the newspaper in 1954 to another publisher, he worked there until his death in 1965.
Legacy and honorsEdit
Black Dispatch newspaperEdit
Roscoe Dunjee published Oklahoma City’s first black newspaper, the Black Dispatch, from 1915 to 1954. Its name refers to "Black Dispatches", the term during the American Civil War for intelligence given to the Union by free or enslaved African Americans in the South.)
The Black Dispatch was a member of the Western Negro Press Association during its formative years. It later subscribed to the Associated Negro Press, which boasted of having 112 member newspapers in 1921. Dunjee added the Crusader Service, the Pacific Coast News Bureau, and Preston News Service, among others. In the 21st century, the Black Dispatch continues to be operated, the oldest continuously published black newspaper in Oklahoma.
- Sheeler, Reuben. "Dunjee, Roscoe (1883–1965)". Black Past. Retrieved 7 Feb 2015.
- Rummel, Jack (2003). African American Social Leaders and Activists. New York, NY: Facts on File Inc. p. 61. ISBN 9780816048403.
- "Roscoe Dunjee and the Oklahoma City Black Dispatch". Kansas state University Libraries. Sullins, William S. Retrieved 21 May 2015.
- "Roscoe Dunjee on education". open-access repository of research by members of Oklahoma Higher Education. Hadley,Worth J. Retrieved 21 May 2015.
- Lackmeyer, Steve. "Roscoe Dunjee: Fighter for Equality". OKC History. Retrieved 7 Feb 2015.
- LaMotte, Janet. "Roscoe Dunjee". Find A Grave. Retrieved 7 Feb 2015.
- Bob Burke and Angela Monson, Roscoe Dunjee, Champion of Civil Rights (Edmond: University of Central Oklahoma Press, 1998).
- Roger W. Cummins, "'Lily-White' Juries on Trial: The Civil Rights Defense of Jess Hollins," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 63 (1985) (issues available for purchase).
- Paul Finkelman, "Not Only the Judges' Robes Were Black: African-American Lawyers as Social Engineers", Review of Emancipation: The Making of the Black Lawyer, 1844-1944, by J. Clay Smith], Stanford Law Review 47, No.1 (November 1994).
- Worth J. Hadley, Roscoe Dunjee on Education: The Improvement of Black Education in Oklahoma, 1930–1955 (Ed.D. diss., University of Oklahoma, 1981).
- John H. L. Thompson, The Little Caesar of Civil Rights: Roscoe Dunjee in Oklahoma City, 1915 to 1955 (Ph.D. diss., Purdue University, 1990).
- Ex Parte Hollins, 14 P.2d 243, 244 (Okla. Crim. App., 1932).
- Hollins v. State of Oklahoma, 38 P.2d 36, 40 (Okla. Crim. App., 1934).
- Hollins v. State of Oklahoma, 295 U.S. 394 (1935).