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This is a contributing entry for Ralph Ellison and African American History in Oklahoma City and only appears as part of that tour.Learn More.

Crusading journalist and civil rights leader Roscoe Dunjee established the Black Dispatch newspaper in Oklahoma City in 1915. From his office just off busy Second Street, Dunjee kept Black readers informed of news and events of interest to them and from their perspective. He also used the newspaper as a platform to attack Oklahoma's Jim Crow laws. As a teenager, Ralph Ellison had a 4 am Black Dispatch paper route, delivering the daily paper to homes on the northeast side before school.

Banner of Black Dispatch Newspaper, 1917

Newspaper, White, Publication, Font

Roscoe Dunjee, Editor of the Black Dispatch

Forehead, Face, Glasses, Chin

The Black Dispatch had been founded by Ida Ellison's friend Roscoe Dunjee in 1915 to probe the politics that had forced the popular Black president of Langston University to fall from power and grace. Set on a trajectory of social justice, the newspaper became a mouthpiece for racial and economic equality, exposing those injustices in terms of unconstitutionality. One of Dunjee's most important fights in the years of Ellison's childhood was the state of Oklahoma's "separate but equal" segregation policy. Articles and editorials in the Black Dispatch appealed to its readers' reason, and although he delivered its newspapers throughout the east side of Oklahoma City, Ellison was not always convinced of the ethos of Dunjee and his pioneering newspaper. "Mr. Roscoe Dun[g]ee, the editor and publisher of our local Black newspaper, was writing very eloquent editorials suggesting that the real clue, the real ground for solving the racial predicament, rested in the Constitution. I read his editorials, but I must confess that with my youthful cynicism, I didn't quite believe them. But anyway, the men in the barbershop believed in the spirit of the law, if not in its application. As for me, I saw no hope in the law. It was to be obeyed in everyday affairs, but in instances of extreme pressure, it was to be defied, even at the cost of one's life."

Letters from Ellison after Invisible Man was published in 1952 reveal Ellison's hurt feelings that the Black Dispatch, still in publication, hadn't reviewed or mentioned the novel, as had Oklahoma City's dominant, white newspaper, The Daily Oklahoman. The Black Dispatch continued to have a presence in Oklahoma City until 1982, and Ellison was sent complimentary copies of the the newspaper up until the end.

Callahan, John F.. Conner, Marc C.. The Selected Letters of Ralph Ellison. New York City, New York. Random House, 2019.

Ellison, Ralph. Shadow and Act. New York City, New York. Vintage, 1964.

Jackson, Lawrence. Ralph Ellison: The Emergence of Genius. New York City, New York. John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2002.