In 1860, the prominent African-American editor and civil rights activist Philip Alexander Bell arrived in San Francisco from New York City to take up the editor’s chair at the San Francisco Mirror of the Times newspaper —the intellectual and political heartbeat of the emerging movement for African-American equality in California.
One of Bell’s earliest editorial items — published on 20 August of that year — was about Emperor Norton. Within a matter of hours, the Emperor responded in writing, and Bell published the note the following day under the headline “A Pacific Proclamation.”
Twenty months later, Bell would join Peter Anderson, a founder of the Mirror, in converting the paper to a new African-American weekly called The Pacific Appeal. At the end of 1870, Emperor Norton named the Appeal his imperial gazette; and, over the next four-and-a-half years, Anderson, as editor, published some 250 of the Emperor’s proclamations — including his many decrees recognizing the humanity and rights, and demanding fairness and equality, for marginalized and immigrant people, specifically: the Chinese, Native Americans and African-Americans,
The fact that Emperor Norton responded to Philip Bell in 1860 — and what he said — tells us much about the Emperor.
We believe this is the first modern publication of the images and full texts of Bell’s editorial and the Emperor’s reply.