Site Map | Contact Us

Bells for Peace…to Honor the Past and to Assure the Future

The Hill District: Robert L. Vann ,Lawyer, Diplomat,
Crusader, Political Statesman

Robert L. Vann,
"Lawyer, Diplomat, Crusader, Political Statesman."
BORN: 27 August 1879
DIED: 24 October 1940
BURIED: Homewood Cemetery

Robert L. Vann, who rose from the obscurity of a backwoods farm "out from" Ahoskie, N.C., to confer with Presidents on the subject of the Negro, is no more!
Death wrote "Thirty" to the dramatic life saga of America's "No. 1 Negro Citizen" Thursday at 7:05 p.m. when the internationally-known publisher and editor of The Pittsburgh Courier passed away at Shadyside Hospital. (25)

Came To Pittsburgh in 1903; Opened Law Offices in 1910. Mr. Vann came to Pittsburgh in 1903 and entered the University of Pittsburgh. He was graduated from the University with the bachelor of arts degree in 1906. In 1909, he received his law degree.

The next year, 1910, he began the practice of law.
In the same year, he married Jessie Matthews of Gettysburg, Pa.
Mr. Vann's active career before the bar lasted from 1910 until 1933 when he was named a Special Assistant Attorney-General by President Roosevelt. His professional career was distinguished by the success and admiration which he won from the bench and the members of his profession. In more than sixty cases, he represented clients charged with homicide. A first degree verdict was never returned against any of his clients. (26)

In North Carolina, Vann] walked 24 miles a day to school, graduated valedictorian of his grammar school class. At Virginia Union University he studied so diligently that he got a Pitt scholarship in 1903. At Pitt his ability as a level-headed orator, writer and leader soon became evident. He won the class prize for oratory, was Tri-State Debating League president, and became editor (by student body election) of the Pitt Courant (now the Pitt News).
He went through Pitt College by working in a Stockton Avenue boarding-house for two meals a day and $2 a week. When he graduated, Law School Dean John B. Schaefer asked Lawyer J. C. Boyer to take him under wing. While studying with Boyer, Vann earned his way as a night waiter on the B. & O. Railroad. (27)

Became Courier Editor* in 1912; Held That Position until His Death. In the same year that Mr. Vann began the practice of law, he was "called" into the newspaper business. He was one of the founders of The Pittsburgh Courier which was incorporated March 10, 1910. In 1913, he became the Editor of The Courier and remained such until the time of his death. During the early years of the newspaper's existence, he contributed liberally to its upkeep. He eventually became Treasurer of the corporation and later, President, both of which positions he held when he died.
The Pittsburgh Courier was but one of many racial enterprises into which, during his young manhood, he put his intelligence, his heart and his money. Support of Negro business was a cardinal principle in his personal life. Many of the enterprises which he sought to help failed, but his ardor for the success of Negro business never wavered or diminished.
If any facet of his three-sided life as lawyer, newspaper publisher and editor and political statesman distinguished Mr. Vann most, it was perhaps as a political statesman that he became best known to white and black America. His political activity began shortly after his entrance into the practice of law. From 1917` until 1931, he served as an Assistant City Solicitor in Pittsburgh. Even during those years, he became celebrated for his political sagacity. (28)

Image above: Robert L. Vann in the 1930s.
Publisher of the Pittsburgh Courier.
HEADING: Pittsburgh. Portraits. Vann, Robert L.
#: P5846.
From the Collections of the Pennsylvania Department, The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.

*Note: The New Pittsburgh Courier is one of the oldest and most prestigious Black newspapers in the United States, with a rich and storied history. Established in 1907 by Edwin Harleston, a guard in the H. J. Heinz food-packing plant, the Pittsburgh Courier gained national prominence after attorney Robert Lee Vann became the newspaper's editor and publisher, treasurer, and legal counsel in 1910. In his lifetime, Vann saw the Courier grow to become the largest, most influential Black newspaper in the nation with a circulation of 250,000 and over 400 employees in 14 cities.

In 1966 John H. Sengstacke purchased the newspaper and renamed it the New Pittsburgh Courier. It became part of Sengstacke Newspapers (now Real Times, LLC) - the largest and most influential Black newspaper chain in the country - which also includes the Chicago Daily Defender, Michigan Chronicle, Michigan Front Page and (Memphis) Tri-State Defender. Today the New Pittsburgh Courier continues to serve as a trusted vehicle for Black expression, publishing an award-winning edition every Wednesday.

Information courtesy of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh

Read VANN MEMORIAL TOWER TO GET A VOICE from the The New Pittsburgh Courier, Written by Rebecca Nuttall - Courier Staff Writer - Friday, 22 April 2011 (PDF)

Contact the webmaster
All Bells for Peace contents on the Website are: Copyright © 2006-2007 -
All rights reserved.