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The Hill District: Robert L. Vann


Robert L. Vann,
"Lawyer, Diplomat, Crusader, Political Statesman."(22)
BORN: 27 August 1879.(23)
DIED: 24 October 1940.(24)
BURIED: Homewood Cemetery
  • Robert L. Vann, who rose from the obscurity of a backwoods farm "out from" Ahoskie, N.C., to confer with Presidents on the subject of the Negro, is no more!
    Death wrote "Thirty" to the dramatic life saga of America's "No. 1 Negro Citizen" Thursday at 7:05 p.m. when the internationally-known publisher and editor of The Pittsburgh Courier passed away at Shadyside Hospital. (25)

  • Came To Pittsburgh in 1903; Opened Law Offices in 1910. Mr. Vann came to Pittsburgh in 1903 and entered the University of Pittsburgh. He was graduated from the University with the bachelor of arts degree in 1906. In 1909, he received his law degree.
    The next year, 1910, he began the practice of law.
    In the same year, he married Jessie Matthews of Gettysburg, Pa.
    Mr. Vann's active career before the bar lasted from 1910 until 1933 when he was named a Special Assistant Attorney-General by President Roosevelt. His professional career was distinguished by the success and admiration which he won from the bench and the members of his profession. In more than sixty cases, he represented clients charged with homicide. A first degree verdict was never returned against any of his clients. (26)

  • [In North Carolina, Vann] walked 24 miles a day to school, graduated valedictorian of his grammar school class. At Virginia Union University he studied so diligently that he got a Pitt scholarship in 1903. At Pitt his ability as a level-headed orator, writer and leader soon became evident. He won the class prize for oratory, was Tri-State Debating League president, and became editor (by student body election) of the Pitt Courant (now the Pitt News).
    He went through Pitt College by working in a Stockton Avenue boarding-house for two meals a day and $2 a week. When he graduated, Law School Dean John B. Schaefer asked Lawyer J. C. Boyer to take him under wing. While studying with Boyer, Vann earned his way as a night waiter on the B. & O. Railroad. (27)

  • Became Courier Editor in 1912; Held That Position until His Death. In the same year that Mr. Vann began the practice of law, he was "called" into the newspaper business. He was one of the founders of The Pittsburgh Courier which was incorporated March 10, 1910. In 1913, he became the Editor of The Courier and remained such until the time of his death. During the early years of the newspaper's existence, he contributed liberally to its upkeep. He eventually became Treasurer of the corporation and later, President, both of which positions he held when he died.
    The Pittsburgh Courier was but one of many racial enterprises into which, during his young manhood, he put his intelligence, his heart and his money. Support of Negro business was a cardinal principle in his personal life. Many of the enterprises which he sought to help failed, but his ardor for the success of Negro business never wavered or diminished.
    If any facet of his three-sided life as lawyer, newspaper publisher and editor and political statesman distinguished Mr. Vann most, it was perhaps as a political statesman that he became best known to white and black America. His political activity began shortly after his entrance into the practice of law. From 1917 until 1931, he served as an Assistant City Solicitor in Pittsburgh. Even during those years, he became celebrated for his political sagacity. (28)


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