Venice Tipton Spraggs (1905-1956)

The Chicago Defender Front Page, November 16, 1940
“Image Ownership: Public Domain”

Venice Tipton Spraggs served as the Washington Bureau Chief for the Chicago Defender and was the first African American inducted into Theta Sigma Phi, a professional journalism fraternity.  Spraggs was born in 1905 in Birmingham, Alabama to Barbara Tipton.  She attended Spelman College and married William Spraggs, a presser from Birmingham, in 1924.  The couple had no children.

As a journalist, Spraggs wrote about prominent issues facing black women and encouraged her readers to pursue every avenue of education afforded to them.  She authored a column titled “Women in the National Picture” which detailed the activities of the National Council of Negro Women, the National Negro Congress, and the National Association of Colored Women.  In addition, Spraggs’ column reported on Washington’s legislative activity on issues relevant to black women.  Her mastery of journalism resulted in her historic induction into Theta Sigma Phi on August 6, 1947, in Washington, D.C.  Spraggs was elected for membership by both the local chapter and the fraternity’s national leadership, becoming the first African American to join the organization.

Spraggs was very active in American politics.  In 1938, President Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed her as a supervisor in the National Youth Administration.  In 1948, she began holding minor political appointments with and the Democratic Party’s Women’s Division and in 1953, she was appointed assistant to the vice chairman of the Democratic National Committee (DNC).  While in these positions she actively lobbied against the use of poll taxes and other discriminatory practices that disproportionately impacted black voters in the South.  As a party courier she was charged with reaching women voters during the 1952 presidential election campaign.

Spraggs was a staunch supporter of Adlai Stevenson during his 1956 presidential bid and served as the Stevenson campaign’s election committee liaison with the DNC.  While in that post Spraggs traveled the country campaigning for Stevenson, and in the process increased his popularity in the African American community.  She fell ill with a bronchial disease during a campaign trip and returned to Washington D.C.  Sprague died on December 1, 1956, less than a month after Stevenson lost to President Dwight D. Eisenhower. The cause of her death was listed as cerebral hemorrhage.  She was 51 at the time.