Born: July 4, 1906, Hopkinsville, Kentucky
Died: January 11, 1974, Brooklyn, New York
Ted Poston, born into a prominent Black family in Hopkinsville, was one of the first African American journalists to work on a white-owned metropolitan newspaper. During a 33-year career at The New York Post, he won two of journalism’s major awards.
Theodore Roosevelt Augustus Major Poston was the youngest of eight children born to educators Ephraim and Mollie Cox Poston. He graduated from Attucks High School in Hopkinsville in 1924 and what is now Tennessee State University in Nashville in 1928.
Poston began his career at age 15 writing for his family’s newspaper, the Hopkinsville Contender. He wrote for two major Black-owned newspapers, the Pittsburgh Courier and the New York Amsterdam News. A union activist, Poston was fired from the News for helping the American Newspaper Guild organize its staff.
He joined the New York Post in 1936 and soon became a star reporter. A favorite of publisher Dorothy Schiff, Poston lobbied her to hire more Black and Puerto Rican journalists. Showing he could succeed in areas closed to other Black journalists, Poston got exclusive interviews in 1940 with Gov. Huey Long of Louisiana and Republican presidential candidate Wendell Willkie.
Poston chronicled the Harlem Renaissance, and his friends included writer Dorothy West and U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall.
Because Alabama politicians wouldn’t allow Black journalists to report there, Poston disguised himself to cover the Scottsboro Boys trials in the 1930s. “I sat up there in the Negro gallery in ragged overalls pretending to be a country boy … and I would make notes under the overcoat on my lap,” he said. White journalist friends wired his stories to New York.
During World War II, Poston worked in the Office of War Information in Washington as “Negro liaison” and served as a member of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Federal Council of Negro Affairs, known as the Black Cabinet. After FDR’s death, Poston was among those who urged President Harry Truman to desegregate the military.
Poston covered such stories as Jackie Robinson joining Major League Baseball, the Brown v. Board of Education case, the Little Rock Nine and the Birmingham bus boycott.
His best work was a series of articles about the Groveland Four case in Florida in 1949, where four Black men were falsely accused of raping a young white woman. His work was recognized with two of journalism’s major prizes, the George Polk Award for national reporting and the Heywood Broun Award. New York University’s School of Journalism named Poston’s Groveland Four series as one of the 100 most important journalistic works of the 20thcentury.
Poston retired from the Post in 1972. When he died two years later, Poston was estranged from his third wife, Ersa. He is buried in Cave Spring Cemetery in Hopkinsville.
He was one of the first inductees into the National Association of Black Journalists’ Hall of Fame when it was created in 1990.
Biographer Kathleen A. Hauke chronicled his life in Ted Poston: Pioneering American Journalist (1999) and collected his best work in another book, A First Draft of History (2000).
Poston wrote 10 autobiographical short stories about growing up in segregated Hopkinsville. Hauke edited the stories and annotated them with recollections from the author’s family and friends. The collection was published as The Dark Side of Hopkinsville (1991). All three of Hauke’s books were published by the University of Georgia Press.
The Kentucky Historical Society placed a historical marker in Poston’s memory in downtown Hopkinsville in 2017.