Scott, C(ornelius) A(dolphus) 1908–2000
C(ornelius) A(dolphus) Scott 1908–2000
As editor and publisher of the Atlanta World, the oldest daily black newspaper in the United States, C. A. Scott helped shape the opinions of generations of readers. Scott took control of the paper after his brother’s death in 1934, and remained at the helm until his retirement in 1997, at the age of 89.
In the early years of Scott’s editorship, the paper developed a reputation as a staunch advocate of equal rights for African Americans. The paper included coverage of lynchings and other violence against blacks, which went unreported in the white-owned papers. In editorials, Scott railed against widespread forms of racial discrimination and advocated black economic self-sufficiency, urging his readers to patronize black-owned businesses. According to his obituary in the New York Times, Scott also wanted his paper “to give constructive and inspiring news” to its African-American readers; stories about local churches, schools, sporting events, and social events figured prominently in the World’s pages.
In 1928 Scott moved up to Atlanta at the urging of his older brother, W. A. Scott, who was in the process of establishing a newspaper. There was only one difficulty: the city already had a black newspaper, the Atlanta Independent, owned by one of the most powerful African-American businessmen in the South. However, the Scotts were undeterred, establishing an office on Atlanta’s Auburn Avenue, the most famous black business strip in the country. The first issue of the Atlanta World, a monthly paper, appeared on August 5, 1928.
In addition to helping his brother set up the World, Scott took classes at Morris Brown College from 1928 to 1929, and at Morehouse College from 1929 to 1931. Meanwhile, his older brother hired a league of salesmen, who sold subscriptions to the paper door to door. With a guaranteed circulation, the World was able to attract advertising from prominent black-owned businesses, and soon afterward, white-owned businesses.
Almost immediately, the World became a financial success. However, that was not the only reason why the family chose to establish the paper. “My family went into printing because we felt we could do more to make the Constitution a realistic document by being printers and running a newspaper than by being ministers,” Scott said in Going Strong. “Lawyers and doctors are not protected by the Supreme Court. It’s just the church and the free press. We believed, as young men, that we could better solve the race problems, which were big at that time.”
In fact, the paper became so successful that the Scott family was able to set up sister newspapers in other cities. The Birmingham World was launched in 1930, and the Memphis World in 1931. Eventually, W. A. Scott established the Scott Newspaper Syndicate, which provided printing and editorial services for black papers all over the South, and later, the North. And as the Atlanta World continued to flourish, its publication
At a Glance…
Born Cornelius Adolphus Scott on February 8, 1908, in Edwards, MS; died on May 7,2000; son of William A. Scott (a minister and printer) and Emeline Southalf (a printer); married Ruth Perry, January 27, 1940; children: Jocelyn and Portia. Education: Morris Brown College, attended, 1928-29; Morehouse College, attended, 1929-31; University of Kansas, attended, 1931-32. Politics: Democrat until 1952; Republican, 1952-00,
Career: Publisher, Atlanta World, 1934-97.
Awards: Lincoln University School of Journalism Award, 1957; Citizen Award, Georgia Chamber of Commerce, 1959; Jesse O. Thomas Service Award, Atlanta Urban League, 1981; Life Fellow, Southern Regional Council, 1983.
Member: Board of directors, NAACP, Atlanta chapter; YMCA; Frontiers International Club; Atlanta Chapter, Newspaper Publishers Association; Director, Mutual Federal Savings & Loan, Atlanta; Vice-chairman, Atlanta Bipartisan Voters League.
schedule was increased to twice a week, then three times a week.
In 1931 Scott moved to Topeka, Kansas, where he attended journalism school at the University of Kansas. In 1932—the year that the World began to appear daily—he returned to Atlanta and a job as the paper’s assistant manager. “It’s ironic that coming from a family that believed so much in education, I never had time to get any degrees,” Scott observed in Black Enterprise. “I’ve been too busy working,” he added.
By 1934 at the age of 32, W. A. Scott was a rich man, with a chain of newspapers and other financial interests. That year, however, his fortunes took a terrible turn, when he was shot in the back as he walked from his garage to his house. The case was never solved. In these unfortunate circumstances, C. A. Scott became editor and publisher of the paper that he helped to establish.
Under C. A. Scott’s control, there was little change in the editorial or business policies of the paper. The World continued to decry lynchings and other, more insidious forms of racial discrimination. Scott urged African Americans, who were routinely prevented from participating in elections, to stand up for their right to vote. “The most gratifying thing in my lifetime was winning that right for my people in the Democratic white primary,” Scott said in Going Strong.
More controversially, the World dedicated substantial space to violence in the black community. Scott argued that sentences for black-on-black crime should be more strictly enforced, and that more African-American policemen should be hired, to increase respect for the law in black neighborhoods. It was a subject that white-owned papers ignored almost completely—and some African Americans wanted black-owned papers to do the same.
Many of Scott’s editorials focused on the importance of supporting black-owned businesses, especially insurance companies, the largest and most significant financial institutions in the community. In return, Scott argued, these businesses would provide jobs for African-American workers. Scott’s pro-business views sometimes led him to reject government programs aimed at helping the poor. During the Depression, Scott argued that African Americans wanted jobs, not welfare. He also opposed the establishment of a minimum wage, arguing that it would result in black job losses.
By 1950 Auburn Avenue, where the World had established its offices decades before, was falling into disrepair. Atlanta’s city government declared the area a “slum,” and prepared to clear the area so it could be sold for re-development. Scott led the successful fight to preserve the street as a historically-significant area for black business and culture. For the next forty years, he worked to transform the street back into the lively, bustling district it once was. However, Auburn Avenue’s fortunes continued to decline, until only a few historic structures—among them the Worlds offices—remained on the famous street.
Meanwhile, Scott’s politics—and, therefore, the politics of the World —became increasingly conservative. In 1952 he switched from supporting the Democratic Party to the Republican Party, citing both ideological and practical reasons. On one hand, he was offended by the ugly racist history of the Democratic Party in the South. On the other, he saw the necessity of having both parties compete for the black vote—especially if the Republicans were better allies. “I was a Roosevelt Democrat from 1932 to 1952, until the election of the immortal Dwight D. Eisenhower, whom our paper supported,” Scott said in Going Strong. “He effectively challenged the great problem of race and segregation.” After Scott joined the Republican Party, the World nearly always endorsed the Republican candidate during presidential elections—a trend that was reflected in African-American voting patterns. In the 1960 election, the World endorsed Republican Richard Nixon for president over Democrat John F. Kennedy. On election day, Atlanta was the only city in the United States where a majority of black voters chose Nixon. “The power of the press is the greatest power a man can give to a man,” Scott told Black Enterprise. “I can demonstrate case after case where our support or nonsupport has made the difference. But I’ve been careful not to abuse this power. I’ve never corrupted it, never sold it, and that’s why we’re still here,” he continued.
During the World’s first thirty years, the paper had built a reputation as a crusader against injustice and racial discrimination. In the early 1960s, however, as the struggle for civil rights grew more militant, Scott’s conservative views were increasingly at odds with the World’s readership. The first critical split came over student sit-ins at Atlanta businesses, including Rich’s department store and several other of the World’s major advertisers.
Scott was in a difficult position. If he ignored or opposed the sit-ins, he would betray the Worlds long history of support for civil rights; but if he supported the sit-ins, the paper’s advertising revenue would be in jeopardy. In the end, Scott chose business over politics. Rather than targeting restaurants, he argued in an editorial, activists should, according to African American Business Leaders, focus “on removing segregation in education, more voting and political influence, equal consideration in the administration of justice at the state level, and improved economic opportunities, [rather] than on places to eat.”
Years later, Scott defended his decision to oppose the sit-ins, which proved to be such an effective tool in dismantling the Jim Crow laws of the South. “When the sit-ins came to Atlanta, and one of the large stores said it would desegregate when the schools did, I thought this was fair…,” he was quoted as saying in African American Business Leaders. “I told the white business people they shouldn’t be stampeded into hiring Negroes and I told the civil rights leaders to give whites time to adjust to the change, for the best interests of both sides.”
Meanwhile, beginning in the 1960s, the circulation of the World —as well as many other older black newspapers—began to drop precipitously. In 1960 the World had a circulation of about 30,000; ten years later, it was 20,000. By 1970, all of the Scott family’s newspapers had gone out of business, with the exception of the Atlanta World and the Birmingham World, which was later sold. “I feel humble that a lot of papers in the past 50 years have failed and we have survived,” Scott told Black Enterprise. “Next to the church, the press is the most indispensable way to save this republic.”
Even with circulation dropping, Scott refused to curtail his controversial political opinions. In 1983, when there was a national campaign to make Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday a national holiday, Scott wrote an editorial opposing it. A new holiday would cost the economy too much money, he argued, and up until then, only one president had merited such an honor. Such views further alienated many African-American readers from the World.
After more than six decades as the World’s publisher and editor, Scott retired in 1997, at the age of 89. By then, the paper had a readership of just 10,000, and was published twice a week, on Sunday and Thursday. Unfazed by these difficult times, Scott said in Going Strong, “Adversity develops a man. If everything’s smooth with nothing to think about but enjoying yourself, you won’t do much thinking. Necessity makes you think. I know it helped me.”
During his 63-year career, Scott received many honors and accolades, including an award from the Lincoln University School of Journalism, and a citizen’s award from the Georgia Chamber of Commerce. Scott was a board member of the Atlanta chapter of the NAACP for more than 30 years, and served as vice-chair of the Atlanta Bipartisan Voters League. He died on May 7, 2000, at the age of 92.
African American Business Leaders, Greenwood Press, 1994.
Going Strong, by Pat York, Arcade, 1991.
Black Enterprise, June 1990, p. 194.
New York Times, May 11, 2000, p. B15.
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