The Broad Ax
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African American newspaper. Throughout its history, the Broad Ax (Salt Lake City and Chicago) was issued weekly by its founder, publisher, and editor, Julius F. Taylor (1853-1934). Born into slavery near New Market, Virginia, Julius Taylor was the 13th of 14 children of Gilbert and Mary Ann Taylor. Taylor’s parents and older siblings had earlier been sold to different owners but remained in relatively close proximity in the Shenandoah Valley. In the mid-1860s Taylor made his way to Philadelphia and settled successively in St. Paul, Minnesota; Fargo, North Dakota; and Chicago, before arriving in Salt Lake City in 1895. There Taylor founded the Broad Ax, which joined two other black newspapers published in Salt Lake City at a time when there were fewer than 1,000 African Americans in the state.
The first issue, published on August 31, 1895, carries the motto that remained with the paper until it ceased in 1931: “Hew to the line.” Taylor announced that his paper would be “Democratic in politics, advocating the immortal principles of Jefferson and Jackson.” He advocated racial equality, religious tolerance, and support for Free Silver (and, later William Jennings Bryan). As one scholar observed, “a sharp-tongued, Democratic, atheistic, African American editor in Utah in the 1890s stood out as an anomaly” (Michael S. Sweeney, “Julius F. Taylor and the Broad Ax of Salt Lake City, Utah Historical Quarterly 77, no. 3: 205).
With tensions rising between the Broad Ax and the leaders of the Latter Day Saints in Salt Lake City, Taylor relocated to Chicago in 1899. The last issue of the Broad Ax published in Salt Lake City was vol. 4, no. 41, dated June 6, 1899. Taylor relaunched the paper in Chicago, continuing the same numbering, with the July 15 issue. Along with a description of his editorial platform (roughly identical to the description in the first issue in 1895), the Chicago debut issue carried an endorsement signed by the mayor of Chicago, Carter Henry Harrison II.
Described by one historian as “the most controversial black newspaper in Chicago in the late nineteenth century” (Juliet E. K. Walker, “The Promised Land: The Chicago Defender and the Black Press in Illinois: 1862-1970,” in The Black Press in the Middle West, 1865-1985, ed. by Henry Lewis Suggs, Greenwood Press, 1996, 21), the Broad Ax was noted for its caustic, inflammatory language and criticism of Booker T. Washington. During World War I, Taylor provided extensive coverage of lynchings that took place on American soil while black soldiers fought for the United States in Europe.
In 1912, Taylor joined with the publishers of three other black Chicago newspapers to form the Colored Press Association of Chicago (not to be confused with the Associated Negro Press founded by Claude Barnett in Chicago in 1919). Taylor was joined in this venture by Robert S. Abbott, founder, editor and publisher of the Chicago Defender; Sheadrick Bond Turner, state legislator and editor and publisher of the Chicago Illinois Idea; and William D. Neighbors, Chicago real estate developer and editor and publisher of the Illinois Chronicle. The purpose of the organization was to strengthen the mission of the black press in Chicago by establishing a local news gathering bureau, to highlight issues of particular interest to African Americans, and, more specifically, to endorse an African American candidate for county commissioner.
Apparently, no issues of the Broad Ax published after 1927 survived, but the obituary for Taylor published in the Defender (May 19, 1934, p. 18) notes that he published the Broad Ax until 1931, when his health no longer permitted it. Taylor’s paper has sometimes been confused with another African American newspaper, the Broad Axe published in St. Paul, Minnesota (1891-1903), edited by Albert L. Graves and Harley O. Doolittle, but these were separate enterprises.