The Iowa Bystander, when it ceased publication during 2015, was acknowledged as the oldest newspaper targeting a predominately black audience west of the Mississippi. Founded during June of 1894 and always headquartered in Des Moines, editor John Lay Thompson, who took the helm in 1896, developed many of the strategies that provided the foundation for its success.
Among those strategies was the recruitment of correspondents who contributed brief weekly reports from the scattered cities where they lived, reports that, in addition to selling subscriptions, supplemented the churches and lodges that also helped to bind a statewide community.
Not every correspondent mailed in a report every week, but if you look at the front page (above) of The Bystander for Aug. 25, 1899, you'll see that community news reports filled nearly half the page.
In his Christmas edition that year, published on Dec. 22, Mr. Thompson published brief biographical paragraphs for all of his regular correspondents. Since this is The Lucas Countyan, I'm going to pull the report on our correspondent, Gertrude Ervin, to the top --- then transcribe the rest of the report:
"Miss Gertrude J. Ervin tells the happenings from Chariton. She was born in Staunton, Va., Dec. 18, 1880. In 1882 her parents came to Lucas County, Iowa, where Miss Ervin attended the common school. Later she entered the high school, where she graduated in the class of 1898. She has a talent for elocution and music, and is yet progressing nicely."
Gertrude's parents were the Rev. Preston S. and Agnes Ervin (also spelled Erwin), who along with many others were recruited in Virginia to work in the coal mines at Cleveland. He was a principal organizer of Chariton's Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church as well as a smaller sister congregation at Cleveland.
Here's the balance of the report from the Christmas edition of the 1899 Bystander:
For nearly three years that the Bystander has been under our charge we have received news from our correspondents, whose help is invaluable, and we appreciate their letters; yet we have never before mentioned them. Knowing, as we do, they form a part of the Bystander family of newsgatherers all over Iowa and other states, we thought a mention of them in this issue would be appropriate. Remember, we will only mention those who represent us now.
The first, and the one who has been corresponding the longest, is Miss May Davis, that brilliant young Christian lady of Albia, Iowa, who was born and educated at Albia. After finishing the common school she entered the Albia high school, from which she graduated in the class of 1898. She has been elected Sunday School superintendent, and several times a delegate to the state Sunday School convention; has corresponded for the Avalanche and Solicitor. Her letters to the Bystander are noted for briefness, conciseness, and punctuality in reaching our office on time.
Mrs. George H. Wade of Cedar Rapids holds the quill for that beautiful city. She has been a very faithful worker. First attended school at Le Mayne Institute in Memphis, Tenn. Later she graduated from the St. Paul, Minn., high school, after which she spent two years in the college preparatory class at the Wilberforce university in Ohio. She is quite young, and she has a bright future.
Miss Eldora Le Ota Green represents Newton, Iowa. Miss Green is a native of Iowa; was educated in the Newton schools, graduating from the Newton high school June 13, 1894. She has traveled a good deal, and is quite conversant with the current news, which makes her items interesting. She has taken several prizes at the state fair for artistic needlework.
Mr. Eliah A. London, a young and successful businessman, has full charge of the Bystander's interests at Muchikanock. He was born in Virginia and moved to Iowa with his parents about sixteen years ago, settling in Mahaska county. He is employed by the W.A. Wells Company's store as a clerk, where he has been working for more than eight years. He is an energetic, good businessman and a good clerk.
From extreme northwestern Iowa, Sioux City notes are furnished by Miss Josephine Proteau, who was born at Bayou Hills, Dakota. She was the third colored child born in Dakota, her other two sisters being the first. Her parentage is of colored and French extraction. Her parents soon moved to Yankton, where Miss Josephine was educated. Being the only colored family there, the children received special respect. She is quite an artist, and does all kinds of fancy work. She is quite a society leader and young church worker. Was secretary of the Y.P.S.C.E. and King's Daughters of the A.M.E. church. She is now taking a course of bookkeeping, shorthand and stenographic work in the Metropolitan business college at Sioux City.
The Clinton News is reported by Mr. Albert A. Bush, who now has charge of the Wapsipinicon club and is also collector for the club. He was born in Xenia, Ohio, 34 years ago last July, but came with his parents to Clinton, Ia., in 1870, where his parents lived ever since, receiving his education in the public schools at the age of 17 years. He took up the study of photographic art, entered the employee of Santee & Temple. He advanced very rapidly and has the trade well learned. He is quite an active church worker, holding nearly every office in the church. He was elected as an alternate lay delegate to represent Iowa in the general conference next year at Columbus, Ohio. He is township clerk of Clinton, being elected the third time. He has a bright future before him.
Mr. H.C. Walker on the banks of the Missouri in Council Bluffs, reports the Bluffs news. He was born in Boone county, Missouri, April 6, 1869. In 1870 he was taken by his parents to Topeka, Kan., where he attended school. In 1890, young Walker came to Council Bluffs, where he married Miss Payne in 1892, and has taken up hotel life. He is quite a church worker; was Sunday school superintendent of the Baptist church for two years; also deacon and trustee and various other offices.
From Mt. Pleasant, we read the happenings as reported by Miss Louise Atwood Mason, the fourth child of Mr. and Mrs. Alfred Mason. She was born in Mt. Pleasant, where she attended the common schools. Next she entered the high school from which she graduated in June, 1886. Immediately she entered the Iowa Wesleyan university, where she graduated from a classic course, receiving the degree of B.A. In 1894, she went to Missouri, where she taught school for three years. She is very intelligent, has a bright literary mind and is a willing worker in the church and society, and several times a Sunday school delegate.
The Boone doings are sent here by young Fred A. Anthony, a clerk in the Webb & Tucker grocery store. He is a Hawkeyeian, born and raised in Boone county, where he graduated from the high school in the class of 1897, then he was soon employed in the store as a delivery boy; has been promoted up to a clerk. Fred is a steady and reliable young man with a bright future before him.
The Gate City items are written by Miss Sadie A. Benthan, on the banks of the Mississippi. She was born and raised in Keokuk; graduating from the Keokuk high school in the class of 1893, receiving first honors. In the fall of 1893 she accepted a school in Shelby county, Missouri, teaching two terms. Then she taught two terms at Kehoka, Mo. In 1897, she entered the Keokuk Business college, taking shorthand, stenography and bookkeeping, where she graduated in 1898. Her name stands first on the eligible list for a clerical position in the post office, having obtained the highest percentage of any candidate. She is a church worker, loved by all who know her; a delegate to many Sunday school conventions, and her papers are listened to with marked attention. She is a high type of a model young lady.
Miss Florence Altena White furnishes the Muscatine sayings. She was born in Muscatine October 18, 1881, and has gone through the common school and will graduate from the high school in the class of 1900, being the only colored girl in the class of thirty. She is quite a musician. At the age of 15 years she composed two waltzes and since then has written several pieces of waltzes, marches, etc., which can be played on piano or organ.
Our Evans, Iowa, agent is Miss Maud Steel, who was born in Virginia in 1883, came to Iowa in 1884 and settled in Evans, where she has remained ever since, attending school there now. Maud is quite young and will, we hope, make a success.
The news of Knoxville is written by Miss Hallie Q. Byrd, who was born in Clarksville, Mo., August 15, 1882. She came to Iowa with her parents, settling in Knoxville, where Miss Byrd attended the school. She is now attending the Macon City, Mo., college.
In Davenport, which forms the Iowa side of the Tri-city on the Mississippi. the news is written by Mr. J.T. Mabry, who first saw the light in Barnesville, Ga., August 15, 1876. His father died when he was quite young. Then his mother with the children moved to Alabama, where young Mabry was placed in the Congregational school; later under an M.E. church school and lastly he attended a Baptist seminary for three years. He then went with his brother to Birmingham, where he clerked in a restaurant a while. He then learned the iron graders' trade. In 1893, after wages got so low in the south, he came north and was selected as foreman of a concrete gang in Ohio. Later he came to Illinois and worked in the mines. He soon located in Davenport and is now superintendent and clerk of the Baptist Sunday school. He is an ambitious young man and one of the best agents the Bystander has.
Oskaloosa, sometimes known as the Quaker town, is now represented by Miss Christina Gant, who was born on August 6, 1882, in Oskaloosa. She moved with her parents to Omaha and when she was 4 years old her father died. In 1894, her mother died, and she was left an orphan girl. She came back to live with her aunt, Mrs. Jones. She is now in the Oskaloosa high school.
The city items of Dubuque are chronicled by Miss Blanch Rober, who was born in Dubuque in May, 1883. After finishing the common school she entered the high school where she is now. She was Sunday school delegate and is secretary of the A.M.E. church. Miss Blanch's friends expect much of her.
Miss Maggie Mason, a charming young lady, represents the Bystander in Iowa City, where she attended the public schools and graduated from the High School. She is an enthusiastic Christian worker, very influential in church and Sunday school, and several times a delegate to the State Sunday School Convention.
Miss Blanch May Bell furnishes the Ottumwa news. Miss Bell is a graduate from the Ottumwa High school in the class of 1898. She is a good Sunday school worker, was a delegate to the Sunday School Convention and is well liked by all who know her.
there are many others who write letters occasionally to the Bystander, whom we have not mentioned.