William Lewis Eagleson (1835-1899)

Kansas counties
Kansas counties
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William Lewis Eagleson published the Colored Citizen, the first black-owned newspaper in Kansas. He was born a slave August 9, 1835 in St. Louis, Missouri. The Colored Citizen originated at Fort Scott, Kansas, January 1878. Eagleson moved the paper to Topeka, Kansas in July1878 because Topeka had a larger, more prosperous black population. During its two year existence, the Colored Citizen provided a forum for Kansas’s African American intellectuals who debated suffrage, citizenship, and emigration from the South. Eagleson’s forceful editorials were often quoted in other newspapers across the United States.

Eagleson was a fierce advocate for racial uplift and independence from the white race. He did not believe blacks should be content with the status quo and urged African Americans to “look up, take hold, climb.”  He regularly promoted Kansas as a land of opportunity for the formerly enslaved who had the courage to flee the “abominable South” where they were “targets of white men.”

In 1878, Eagleson supported the candidacy of T.W. Henderson for Lieutenant Governor. Surprisingly, because Henderson was African American, he was only a few votes short of being elected on the first ballot, whereas it took seventeen ballots to elect the white governor, John Pierce St. John. Eagleson was a reluctant Republican who resented the Party’s token support for his race. However, his ability to garner black votes was acknowledged when he was elected First Assistant Doorkeeper for the House of Representatives January, 1879.

There were regular pleas in the Colored Citizen for paid subscribers but a flood of emigrants from the South—the Exodusters—deluged Topeka and drained the resources of Topeka’s black community. The Citizen folded. Eagleson then became editor of another short-lived publication, the Herald of Kansas, which lasted six months.

Eagleson returned to his original career as a barber, but continued to work for racial uplift. He helped organized the Colored Man’s State Convention which met in Topeka on May 31, 1882. He was a Mason and attended the St. John African American Episcopal Church.

In 1889, he and former state auditor, Edward Preston McCabe, joined a delegation of black men who called on President Benjamin Harrison in Washington, D.C. They wanted the Territory of Oklahoma to be admitted to the Union as a Negro state with McCabe as governor. Their mission was not successful.

Eagleson recruited blacks to Oklahoma through the Oklahoma Immigration Association. When McCabe founded Langston City, Oklahoma in 1890, Eagleson began publishing the Langston Herald, the first black newspaper in Oklahoma. McCabe and Eagleson’s ventures did not prosper and Eagleson moved back to Topeka in 1892. He continued to work for racial uplift and promoted black causes.

Eagleson died of congestive heart failure June 22, 1899 in Topeka, Kansas. He married Elizabeth McKinney December 2, 1865. They had eight children.