Andrew Smitherman, the African American lawyer who founded the Tulsa Star Newspaper

Stephen Nartey April 14, 2023
Andrew Smitherman/Photo credit: @Greenwood1992 via Twitter

Andrew Smitherman was a man of many talents who developed a keen interest in journalism when he completed his law degree and decided to work with Attorney, W.H. Twine. He persuaded the owner of the law firm to grant him permission to run the affairs of his other business, a newspaper called the Muskogee Cimiter.

Within a space of three years, he had carved a niche for the Muskogee Cimiter as a national newspaper. However, he felt the need to resign from his job and establish his own newspaper; a conviction born out of the belief that the black community was not taking advantage of their political clout as a people.

He was a lawyer and the founder of the Tulsa Star, a newspaper that championed African American causes and promoted progress and stability within Tulsa’s Black community in 1913. He also founded the Muskogee Star, a weekly newspaper that later transitioned into a daily paper, and relocated to Tulsa, where he thought the services of his newspaper were needed. Overall, his articles did not sit well with the authorities; through his editorials and news reports, Andrew highlighted the social ills, as well as the abuse of power, and demanded equality for African Americans.

He gave a voice to the Black community and helped to shape public opinion. The paper covered stories that other newspapers ignored, such as lynchings, police brutality, and discrimination. This caused many to hurl accusations at him, such as the instigation of the Tulsa riot and massacre – which compelled him to go into hiding, fearing for his life and family. In 1925 he moved to Buffalo, New York, and later gave the newspaper another try, setting up the Chicago Star in 1932.

The Tulsa Star also celebrated the achievements of Black Tulsans – from successful businesses to talented artists and musicians. It provided a platform for Black voices to be heard and for the community to come together and support each other. Under Andrew’s leadership, the Tulsa Star became one of the most influential Black newspapers in the country.

It helped to build a sense of pride and unity within the Black community, and was a powerful force for change. Andrew was simply a trailblazer who used his legal skills and newspaper to fight for the rights of African Americans and to also promote the progress and stability within Tulsa’s Black community.

Born on December 27, 1883, in Childersburg, Alabama, Andrew was the second of 11 siblings; however, that did not place any impediments to attaining higher education. When his parents, James, and Elizabeth Smitherman, moved to Oklahoma Indian Territory, he enrolled in a secondary school in Centerville, Iowa, before heading to Kansas to complete the Kansas and Northwestern Universities. He acquired his law degree from La Salle University Extension School in Chicago and Boston, according to uncrowned community builders.

As a lawyer, Andrew fought for the rights of African Americans and worked to challenge discriminatory laws and practices. He used his legal skills to support the Black community and also make a positive impact on their lives. His legacy lives on through the impact that he had on the lives of countless Black Tulsans and the influence that the Tulsa Star had on the course of history.

Last Edited by:Annie-Flora Mills Updated: April 14, 2023


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