Robert Smith Jervay, (1873 – 1941)

South Carolina counties
South Carolina counties
Image courtesy

Robert Smith Jervey founded the R. S. Jervay Printing Company in 1901 in Wilmington, North Carolina. Jervay started the Cape Fear Journal newspaper in 1927 after moving to Wilmington from Columbus County, located on North Carolina’s Southeastern border. Wilmington lacked a Black-owned newspaper for thirty years because of the race riots during the 1898 Wilmington Massacre. The Daily Record, which had been serving African American residents of North Carolina, was destroyed in the riot. The local government was overthrown and replaced by white supremacists, resulting in the murder of sixty people. For all the violent moments in United States history, the mob’s gruesome attack was unique: It was the only coup d’état ever to take place on American soil. Cape Fear’s focus was to take up the mantle set by The Daily Record to provide important local news specifically for the Black community of Wilmington.

Jervay was born in 1873, eight years after the end of the Civil War, in Summerville Dorchester County, South Carolina, to William R. Jervay, a former slave, and Mary Elizabeth Jervay (born Smith). William served in South Carolina’s House of Representatives and later the State Senate during Reconstruction. Robert married Mary Alice Jervay (born McNeill) in 1895, at age 22 in North Carolina. They had eight children. According to the census, the highest grade Jervay had completed was his fourth year of high school.

One of Robert’s sons, Thomas Jervay, Sr. (1901-1993), continued the family ownership of the business, changing the name to The Wilmington Journal in 1945. The Wilmington Journal is North Carolina’s oldest existing newspaper for African Americans. In 1973, the Journal’s former offices were the victim of a bombing during unrest between white and Black community members. It had also been set on fire in 1971. It was during this time the Wilmington Ten emerged, a group of predominantly Black men who were wrongly arrested and imprisoned for a role in the violence of 1971. The Wilmington Journal played a vital role in the movement to exonerate the Wilmington Ten, helping broadcast their story and advocate for pardons after they were released in 1980 when witnesses recanted their testimonies. Pardons were granted to the surviving members in 2012.

In 1941, Robert S. Jervay died at age 68 in Wilmington, North Carolina. Jervay is buried in Pine Forest Cemetery. The Wilmington Journal continues to be a family-owned business and remains a voice for the local African American community.