The Life of J.l. edmonds
"If we erase from the pages of American history the negro's presence...it would be a short, uninteresting story."
— J.L. Edmonds, The Los Angeles Times (1909)
Jefferson was a newspaper editor and political activist in late 19th Century Los Angeles. He was born a slave. For the first 20 years of his life, he lived a life of forced physical labor in tobacco and cotton fields on the Edmonds Plantation in Mississippi.
Upon being freed in 1865, he relocated to Clay County, Mississippi and pursued an education in a series of "freedman schools." In 1875, he began teaching in Mississippi, and did it for 11 years. In 1888, he bought a small farm in Northern Mississippi, about 35 miles south of Memphis, Tennessee. During that time, he was active in local politics, helping to get candidates elected during the Reconstruction Era.
Due to the threats of violence in Mississippi, Jefferson decided to move his wife and nine children to Los Angeles the 1890's. He begin writing for newspapers like the LA Herald and Los Angeles Times and purchased farm land.
In 1896, Jefferson published his first newspaper, the Pasadena Searchlight. He used the paper to support the candidacy of Democrat William Jennings Bryan., But many in the black community were upset about this and complained to the paper. As a result, Jefferson was removed as editor. Four years later in 1900, he started a second paper, and I called it The Liberator. He ran The Liberator, for fourteen years and had his daughter Susie and son Jefferson Jr. help as associate editors. Jefferson featured articles about Booker T Washington and W.E.B Dubois. His paper was known for its support of working class black Angelenos, fighting for civil rights, and supporting candidates of any party who he felt supported black community objectives.
Edmonds, along with Rev. Jarrett E. Edwards, pastor of the First AME Church, and John Wesley Coleman, a businessman, started the LA Forum in 1903. The forum was a community activist group that would meet every Sunday at the Odd Fellows Hall at 4 pm to read newspaper articles from around the country and give updates on all happenings in the community. The forum members raised money for causes as diverse as the San Francisco earthquake, the 28th Street YMCA, black agricultural homesteading experiments, and sending Ruth Temple, the first black female doctor on the west coast, to medical school. By 1910, The Forum became a source of support for newly arrived black Angelenos to find jobs, start business and purchase homes. After Jefferson passed away in 1914, many people called Jefferson a California "booster." His belief was that former slaves and sharecroppers from the south could come to Los Angeles for a fresh start and a chance to have true political freedom and economic advancement. He would go on to encourage thousands of African Americans to migrate to Los Angeles, helping to lay the foundation for early Black Los Angeles.