Vincent Lushington “Roi” Ottley was born in Harlem in 1906 to parents Jerome P. and Beatrice (Brisbane) Ottley who were immigrants from Grenada. Ottley attended New York City public schools where he became known as an exceptional athlete in basketball, baseball and track. Ottley won a track scholarship to St. Bonaventure University in 1926 where he developed his skills as a writer and cartoonist for the campus newspaper. He transferred to the University of Michigan in 1928 to concentrate in journalism. Ottley returned to Harlem after a year and attended Columbia University part-time while working as a journalist for the Amsterdam News.
In 1943 Ottley wrote New World A-Coming, a description of Harlem in the 1920s and 1930s. The book became a best seller and won a number of prestigious prizes including the Ainsworth Award and the Peabody Award. In 1944 Ottley was commissioned as a lieutenant in the United States Army and became the first black war correspondent to cover the conflict for major newspapers. During his time in Europe he traveled over 60,000 miles in 22 countries. He also became the first African American reporter to interview a Pope when he met with Pius XII in 1945.
Ottley’s second book, Black Odyssey, a history of African Americans, appeared in 1948. In 1951 he wrote No Green Pastures, a critical look at race relations in Europe. By the early 1950s Ottley was a columnist for the Chicago Tribune. There in 1955 he wrote Lonely Warrior, a biography of Robert S. Abbott, the founder of the Chicago Defender. Two other books, White Marble Lady (1965) and The Negro in New York: An Informal Social History, 1624-1940 (1967) were published posthumously. Roy Ottley died of a heart attack in 1960.