Percy Greene, a conservative African American newspaper editor, was born in Jackson to George Washington Green and Sarah Stone Green. Percy later added an e to the family surname. Greene grew up in a family of twelve children and was educated at various Jackson schools, including Jackson College High School. In 1915 he joined the segregated US Army and served in the 25th Infantry during World War I. He was honorably discharged in 1922 and five years later organized the National Association of Negro War Veterans, which served black veterans denied admission into veterans’ organizations. He also founded the group’s newspaper, the Colored Veteran.
After leaving the army, Greene returned to Mississippi and reenrolled at Jackson College. He married Frances Lee Reed in 1921, and they went on to have two daughters, Frances Lorraine and Gwendolyn Louise. Greene studied law under a Jackson attorney but failed the bar exam in 1926 following an altercation with a white man. After 1928 he worked as a journalist for two Jackson newspapers, the Negro Citizen and the Mississippi Enterprise.
He founded the Jackson Advocate in 1939 and spent the next four decades as its owner, editor, and publisher. In the early years of his career Greene received several recognitions for his journalism, including an award for courage in journalism from the Chicago Defender (1946), a citation from the Washington, D.C., Institute on Race Relations (1947), and awards from the Mississippi Association of Colored Teachers and the Pittsburgh Courier. He was invited to the inauguration of Pres. Harry S. Truman.
By the 1950s Greene’s position on segregation and civil rights led to a split with much of the African American community. He and others in Mississippi’s small black middle class wanted to see the status quo maintained. He supported voting rights and equal education for blacks as necessary to social progress but believed that segregation should continue. Greene subscribed to Booker T. Washington’s accommodationist philosophy and believed that blacks and whites could live peacefully in separate but equal environments and that African American advancement depended on maintaining southern whites’ goodwill. Furthermore, he opposed the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and other civil rights organizations.
His position on civil rights caused many members of the African American community to cancel their subscriptions to the Advocate, and by the late 1950s his newspaper was in financial jeopardy. He accepted funding from the Citizens’ Council and the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission, which used the Advocate as a mouthpiece in favor of segregation. He opposed African Americans’ civil rights for the remainder of his life, a position that damaged his paper’s credibility. Greene suffered a heart attack in 1976 and subsequently sold the newspaper to Charles W. Tisdale, and it continues to publish today. In 1977 Pres. Jimmy Carter posthumously honored Greene’s service in the armed forces.
- Caryl A. Cooper, in The Press and Race: Mississippi Journalists Confront the Movement, ed. David R. Davies (2001)
- “Oral History with Percy Greene” (1972), Center for Oral History and Cultural Heritage, University of Southern Mississippi, digilib.usm.edu/cdm/compoundobject/collection/coh/id/15364/rec/5
- Julius E. Thompson, Percy Greene and the Jackson Advocate: The Life and Times of a Radical Conservative Black Newspaperman, 1897–1977 (1994)
- Julian Williams, Journalism History (Summer 2002)