The Emperor's Bridge Campaign

TO HONOR THE LIFE + ADVANCE THE LEGACY OF EMPEROR NORTON

RESEARCH • EDUCATION • ADVOCACY

Filtering by Tag: Philip Alexander Bell

Emperor Norton on the Front Row of the Fight for Ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment Removing Race as a Barrier to Voting

In February 1869, the U.S. Congress passed the Fifteenth Amendment, which would have the effect of extending the right to vote in the United States to all men of color.

Ten months later — as ratification was making its way through the states, and with California still in the balance — a respected African-American editor and activist named Peter Anderson gave a lecture in favor of the Amendment at the African Methodist Episcopal Zion church, on Stockton Street in San Francisco.

Emperor Norton showed up, took a seat down front and was “an attentive listener,” according to the San Francisco Examiner.

The Amendment was ratified in February 1870 — no thanks to California, where the legislature rejected the Amendment against a backdrop of anti-Chinese racism in the state. But, Anderson — the editor of the African-American-owned and -operated Pacific Appeal newspaper — may have remembered Emperor Norton’s solidarity when, late that year, he took on the Emperor as a regular contributor to his pages.

Over the next four-and-a-half years, Anderson would publish — almost always on the front page — some 250 of Emperor Norton’s proclamations, including those insisting on the rights of African-Americans to attend public schools and ride public streetcars.

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Emperor Norton’s Early Engagement With an African-American Editor Reveals the Essence of the Emperor’s Mission — And Foreshadows a Key Relationship

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.

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