Athens Republique? French in the title of a 1920s newspaper serving African-American communities in the Athens area seems an odd choice until you learn about its editor, Lt. Julian Lucasse Brown, just back from service in France during the First World War. No honorary officer, Brown’s rank placed him among the 350,000 African-American men who served their country overseas a century ago, only to return to a nation that was still deeply racist. He proudly used his rank and wrote about his service, even jokingly referring to his footwear once as “trench boots made famous in France.” Like so many other veterans, Editor Lt. Brown wasn’t willing to accept the status quo.
Closely identified with the Jeruel Baptist Academy, then on Baxter at Pope Street, the Athens Republique was launched in 1919, and reported on racial progress and failings of the day, denouncing lynching and nervily reporting on reverses dealt to the Ku Klux Klan in the midst of their 1920s revival.
Along with national news on racial matters, the Athens Republique offered a unique voice to a vigorous and creative Athens community forced into a robust, independent existence through segregation. The paper offers a fascinating insight into the social life of the community – activities in the churches, clubs, lodges, schools, and private homes. Of particular interest are the home receptions where elaborate party menus of the 1920s are described – escalloped oysters, peach pickles, ornate gelatin salads, and seemingly gallons of ambrosia. Many Athenians will spot the names of family members listed as guests. On the other hand, the sly gossip columns, with titles such as “Bones Brought and Bones Carried,” left it to the readers to guess the names of those whose romances and other affairs were documented.
Delightful advertising reflects the times – a dealership offered automobiles in exchange for cotton, promising an exchange rate of $.02 over the market price per pound. Neighborhood outlets advertised milk, flour, snuff, and other essentials within a few blocks of homes in those pre-supermarket days. Beyond neighborhood services most of the advertising led the consumer to the African-American business and entertainment district at Hull and Washington Streets, known as the “Hot Corner,” and most often to its landmark building, the Morton Theater.
In 1923 Brown relocated his offices to a two-story building where Wilson’s Styling Shop stands today at 343 N. Hull St. Brown and several of his friends were automobile enthusiasts and in a 1924 article he called them to rally for touring with the cry, “Hurrah for Hot Corner and vicinity” – the earliest reference we’ve seen to Hot Corner.
As with other early African-American newspapers, so well covered in Michael Thurmond’s book, A Story Untold: Black Men and Women in Athens History, there are few surviving issues. The Hargrett Rare Book and Manuscript Library is delighted to have consolidated the issues it has into one collection and invites the public to visit and explore their pages. In partnership with the Digital Library of Georgia, the yellowing issues have been microfilmed for preservation and soon will be offered online in digital copies. We hope that the community will find other paper issues in their homes to enrich the holdings.
Among the surviving pages is an extensive account of the Athens Emancipation Day celebration of Jan. 5, 1922. The day’s celebration of freedom began with a parade from the Hot Corner out Broad Street to Rock Springs and then back via Hancock Avenue to the Morton Building, where the community was described as spellbound by the E.H. Harris Concert Band. Next, the crowd entered the Morton Theater for readings and orations by eight presenters, enjoying elaborate decorations by the Social Artistique Club.
The last known issue of the Athens Republique dates from Mar. 27, 1926. By this time Lt. Brown had married, and lived with his wife, Kittie, above his offices. A year later they and the newspaper were gone from the city directory. Happily in the U.S. census for both 1930 and 1940 we find them living in Alabama with their Georgia-born daughter, Florine. Lt. Brown is listed as both a printer and teacher at Tuskegee Institute. Early in 1958 the “trench boots made famous in France” were laid to rest, as shown by an application for a military grave marker by his widow.