Jerry Summers: Chattanooga's Other Newspaper

Monday, January 17, 2022 - by Jerry Summers
Jerry Summers
Jerry Summers

The history of Chattanooga’s two well-known newspapers, the Chattanooga Times, published by Adolph Ochs in 1878, and Chattanooga News Free Press, started by Roy McDonald in 1933, also had a rival in the African American publication, Chattanooga Weekly Blade in 1869.

It was started by former slave, Randolph Miller (1829-1916), who had been emancipated on June 9, 1864 in Newton County, Georgia, on General William Tecumseh Sherman’s famous march through Georgia to Savannah.

Teaching himself to read, in October of that year Miller arrived in Chattanooga and took a job as a pressman for the Chattanooga Gazette (1839-186__).  He would eventually work for five newspapers in the city.

He went to Richmond, Virginia after the end of the Civil War but returned to Chattanooga and took a position at the Times under Adolph Ochs.

After working for said paper for many years Miller started his own newspaper the Chattanooga Weekly Blade in 1898.

Randolph Miller was both a colorful and controversial individual.  Rumors exist that Miller’s weekly newspaper had the quiet support of Mr. Ochs.

He was well known in both the white and black communities for his personal attire as well as his editorial style.  His vigorous non-violence campaign against segregation preceded Martin Luther King, Jr. by about 50 years.

He and other black leaders organized a strike against the 1905 law that segregated public transportation on street cars by a three-week boycott that was successful.

He also started the first known jitney taxi service known as the Hack Line that ran between downtown Chattanooga and other African American communities.

For 16 years Miller published the Weekly Blade.  He was particularly proud that he claimed that he and famed civil rights leader, Frederick Douglas, were the only ex-slaves that had edited newspapers during that period.

Miller remarked that “Douglas’ paper was published in the North, mine in the South, and his support being backed by more money was greater than mine.”

Because of declining health caused primarily from overwork he stopped publication of the Weekly Blade.  He died in 1916 at the age of 86 and is buried in the Forest Hills Cemetery in the St. Elmo area in Chattanooga.

His memory remains as both a civil rights activist and journalist.

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Jerry Summers

(If you have additional information about one of Mr. Summers' articles or have suggestions or ideas about a future Chattanooga area historical piece, please contact Mr. Summers at jsummers@summersfirm.com)

Randolph Miller
Randolph Miller

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