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The Colored Citizen : (Helena, Mont.) 1894-1894.])
The Colored Citizen one of three African American newspapers to take root in Montana, came to life for several months in 1894 in Helena. The inaugural issue, published on September 3, 1894, announced that its reason for being was the intense interest among the city’s 279 “colored” citizens in the upcoming election to decide the site of the state capital: Helena or Anaconda. The newspaper’s editor, James Presley Ball, Jr., son of a successful African American photographer from Cincinnati, proclaimed in the first issue the paper’s core philosophy and mission: “It cannot be denied that our people, through force of circumstance, occupy a peculiar status in this country. We are not thoroughly known. Our better qualities are not presented fairly to the public…Montana has a right to feel proud of its 2,500 colored citizens …” In 1900 African Americans represented only 1 percent (1,523) of the state population, but the community published two other newspapers, the Montana Plaindealer in Helena and the New Age in Butte.
Ball lived in Helena between 1889 and 1897, when he moved to Seattle. A number of African American businessmen had flocked to Helena during the late 1880s and1890s because of its relative racial tolerance and established Afro-American community. In the first issue of the newspaper, Ball implored his fellow “colored citizens” to unite behind Helena as first choice for the new state capital. The fight pitted against each other the two giants of Montana’s copper industry; William Andrews Clark promoted Helena, bankrolling the Colored Citizen and spending over $200,000 on the campaign, while his chief rival, Marcus Daly, invested over $2.5 million in support of Anaconda. A full-page endorsement in the final issue of the newspaper on November 5, 1894, explained the rationale for choosing Helena over Anaconda, the home of the Anaconda Copper Mining Company’s smelter and its founder, Marcus Daly. In bold type it read: “The Anaconda Mining Company Does Not Employ a solitary colored man. Dagoes and Foreigners are preferred to Native Colored Americans. Vote for HELENA for Capitol.” Helena emerged victorious by fewer than 2,000 of the more than 52,000 votes cast. The Colored Citizen and its readers had a significant influence on Montana’s choice of location for its state capital.
All issues of the Colored Citizen measured 17 x 22 inches, and appeared in a six-column, four-page format. Ball published the newspaper at 137 N. Main St., the location of his father’s portrait photography business. The paper focused on local and state news with regular columns about fraternal organizations populated by African Americans. The discrimination experienced by “colored citizens” during the 19th century in the Anaconda mines did not disappear over the next half century. In 1942 the U.S. government sent a battalion of southern Black miner-soldiers to Butte “to produce a full quota of copper for the war effort,” but the walkout in protest of their arrival by 8,000 white miners subverted their patriotic efforts.
Provided by: Montana Historical Society; Helena, MT