Rev. H. H. Humes is an oddity of racial uplift ideology. The tall, eloquent editor of the Greenville Delta Leader and president of the Negro State Baptist Convention, Humes viewed the state’s black population as separate but equal and therefore requiring little assistance from whites. In 1954 he proudly called Mississippi’s blacks a “distinct” race, noting that the separate schools for black and white children planned in Greenville were “the same, penny for penny”—clear evidence, he reasoned, of equal opportunities for both races. His editorials decried the US Supreme Court’s efforts to lift the ban on segregation in public schools, and he railed against “northern agitators” seeking to disrupt what he saw as a happy system of tenant farming.
The Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission apparently paid Humes four hundred dollars to enforce segregation, listing the payments as travel and investigative expenditures. After those payments were revealed in 1957, the Negro State Baptist Convention attempted to oust him, though he held onto his post. The extent to which the Sovereignty Commission determined the content of the six-page weekly Leader may never be known. Percy Greene, editor of another of the state’s successful black newspapers, the Jackson Advocate, printed entire articles generated by the Sovereignty Commission. Ideological allies, Humes and Greene had attended Jackson College in Jackson during the 1920s. Like Greene, Humes was a strong proponent of accommodation, describing Greenville as a thriving cotton town where the black man “gets justice in the courts and has his own swimming pool, the same as white, his own Negro policeman and his own Negro welfare worker.”
Such views reflected a conservative, successful black middle-class perspective in Greenville and the other Delta towns where the Leader circulated. This outlook was reflected not only in the paper’s editorials but also in news items featuring successful black businessmen and college graduates as well as in the Leader’s advertising. On the paper’s second anniversary, for example, Leland Oil Works recognized the Leader “for its conservative policy,” and a funeral business located in the town of Marks hailed the newspaper as the greatest medium of advertising the business had tried in eleven years. A similar advertisement from Greenville’s Watson Funeral Home congratulated Humes for “bringing to the public and its readers one of the most ably edited Negro newspapers in circulation anywhere.”
In the late 1930s and early 1940s Humes advocated on behalf of the race’s talents and abilities, stressing traditional themes of uplift in the black press such as hard work, frugality, and patience. Unlike other editors who employed this strain of racial uplift ideology, however, Humes did not view skin color as a barrier: “The color of the skin and the locality in which you live holds no hindrance to an individual who wants to make progress.” Such progress was also reflected in the paper’s advertising for events at local entertainment venues, such as the Harlem Theatre, which during World War II hosted a “Who’s Who in Greenville” competition to select the best singer, best dancer, best orchestra, most popular lady, and best-dressed person from among the three hundred attendees.
Cotton farming fueled such prosperity, Humes wrote in the Leader, which was located on Washington Avenue, in the city’s black business district. Numerous articles profiled black farmers, their success defined by their resourcefulness and willingness to eke out a living in Mississippi rather than join the throngs of blacks who had migrated north, an endeavor that Humes saw as a cruel mirage. Humes vowed to devote the Leader to showing that blacks outnumbered white farmers, an indication of their success, though he did not indicate in what capacity these black farmers worked.
He dwelled on manners and propriety, identifying such disturbing social trends as black children cursing on Greenville’s streets and the jitterbug craze sweeping the Delta. He advised business leaders to form larger associations of merchants on Nelson Street and called for the closing of black-owned roadside restaurants as health hazards, suggesting instead that black entrepreneurs merge to open a grand cafeteria that would draw patrons from miles around for Sunday dinner. In the spirit of such a separatist vision he wrote, “It isn’t the policy of The Delta Leader to either irritate or agitate. But, our policy is to persistently advocate for those things that are helpful to Negroes.”
In sum, Humes was a conflicted figure. Although he advocated voting rights for blacks, his complicity in the caste system that disenfranchised them on so many other levels sullies his efforts. On 2 January 1958 Humes was taken ill while en route home from visiting friends in Leland, and he died of heart attack in a doctor’s office.
- Greenville Delta Leader (1938–41)
- Julius E. Thompson, The Black Press in Mississippi, 1865–1985 (1993)
- Us (February 1954)
- Patrick S. Washburn, The African American Newspaper: Voice of Freedom (2006)