Prattis, Percival Leroy, 1895-1980

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Percival Leroy (P. L.) Prattis was born on April 27, 1895 in the Germantown section of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He was the only son of Alexander and Ella (Spraggins) Prattis. He attended grade school at the Christiansburg Industrial Institute in Cambria (now Christiansburg), Virginia, from 1908 to 1912. For further education, he attended the Hampton Institute (now Hampton University) in Hampton, Virginia, from 1912 to 1915. He later graduated in 1916 from the Ferris Institute, which was a preparatory academy for low income children in Big Rapids, Michigan. Prattis served in the U.S. Army during World War I. He was a Battalion Sergeant Major, headquartered in the Company 813 Pioneer Infantry. He was stationed in France from September 15, 1918 to July 13, 1919, and was honorably discharged from his duties on July 23, 1919. Prattis began his career in 1919 as the editor of the newly formed Michigan State News in Grand Rapids, Michigan. In 1921 he moved to Chicago, Illinois, to become the city editor of the Chicago Defender, which was the most influential African American weekly newspaper in the country at the beginning of World War I. The Chicago Defender often used sensationalistic headlines and graphic images to capture the reader's attention and convey the horror of lynching and other atrocities affecting African Americans. It was the first African American newspaper to have a circulation over 100,000. Prattis held this position until May 1923. In June 1923 he was hired as the city editor of the Associated Negro Press in Chicago, which included articles that were syndicated by other African American newspapers. He also traveled on assignment and reported on international stories, such as the activities of the Moton Commission on Education in the Republic of Haiti; he even interviewed the Emperor of Ethiopia, Haile Selassie, in England. He moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in 1936 to take a position with the highly influential African American newspaper, The Pittsburgh Courier. The Pittsburgh Courier, which was the leading African American newspaper by 1926, came from relatively inauspicious beginnings. The paper was founded by Edwin E. Harleston, a guard for the H. J. Heinz Company, as an outlet for his poetry. The first issue in 1907 was two pages in length and featured Harleston's poetry. Robert L. Vann, an attorney, drew up incorporation papers and assisted Harleston in finding investors. As one of the few African American lawyers in the city and a friend of Harleston, Vann was retained as legal counsel. Since the Courier could not afford to pay Vann, "he was given ten shares of stock valued at five dollars each in lieu of a fee" (Bunie, p. 44). Vann also was a regular editorial contributor to the Courier. In the fall of 1910, Edwin Harleston quit the paper due to creative differences and financial disagreements with the other investors. The remaining partners offered the editorship to Vann due to his experience as editor of The Courant, a student literary publication at the Western University of Pennsylvania (now the University of Pittsburgh). He was the Courier's editor, treasurer, and legal counsel and held these positions until his death in 1940. The Pittsburgh Courier became a force for social change. Editorials by Robert Vann and others stressed that the policy of the Pittsburgh Courier was to "uplift of the Negro race ... through the medium of the columns" (Brewer, p. 24). Editorials at the Courier called attention to improvements needed in housing, health care, education, job opportunities, political awareness, crime, Jim Crow, and misrepresentation in the white press. When Prattis was hired as a city editor in 1936, the Pittsburgh Courier was the most influential African American newspaper in the country, with a circulation over "250,000" (Bunie, p. 222). Prattis also had duties as reporter and was dispatched on international assignments to the Middle East, Far East and post-World War II Europe. During World War II, he traveled extensively covering the African American Armed Forces. In 1947 he was unanimously granted membership in the Senate and House press galleries by the executive committee of the Periodical Correspondents Association, thus making him the first such permitted African American journalist. In 1948 he was promoted to managing editor, a position he held until 1956. While working at the Courier, Prattis also wrote the column "The Horizon," and was a correspondent for Our World magazine. He was named executive editor of the Pittsburgh Courier in 1956. During this time at the Courier, he highlighted the struggles of African Americans for fair employment opportunities from teaching positions to major league sports. In the 1960s the Pittsburgh Courier's circulation fell as the paper began to lose money and was no longer profitable. Many African American newspapers lost circulation during this time period as mainstream white newspapers gave coverage to the Civil Rights Movement. Mr. Prattis retired from the Courier in 1965 after it was bought by John Sengstacke, publisher and owner of the Courier's longtime competitor, the Chicago Defender. In retirement P. L. Prattis focused on community involvement and was very active in a number of organizations around Pittsburgh. He was the first African American officer on the Community Chest of Allegheny County Council; president of the Brashear Association; and vice-president of the Federation of Social Agencies of Allegheny County for six years. He sat on the boards of the Centre Avenue YMCA, the Pittsburgh branch of the N.A.A.C.P. and the Urban League. He was named "Community Leader of the Year" by the Jewish War Veterans Post 49. In 1962 he was awarded a medal as one of Hampton Institute's most illustrious alumni and in 1965 was given the "Master of Men" award by the state of Pennsylvania YMCA. P. L. Prattis married Helen Marie Sands in 1939 and their daughter, Patricia, was born in 1943. Prattis died February 29, 1980 at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Aspinwall, Pennsylvania.

From the description of Percival L. Prattis papers, 1916-1980. (University of Pittsburgh). WorldCat record id: 657124505

African American journalist, political activist, and editor of the Pittsburgh Courier, one of the oldest African American newspapers, from 1936-1961.

From the description of Papers, ca. 1930-ca. 1970. (Moorland-Spingarn Resource Center). WorldCat record id: 70941354

  • 1895 April 27: Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, son of Alexander and Ella Spraggins Prattis
  • unkown: Attended Christianburg Industrial Institute, Hampton Institute and Ferris Institute
  • unknown: Married Helen Marie Sands (children: Patricia Adrienna Prattis)
  • 1918: Appointed Assistant City Solicitor, City of Pittsburgh
  • 1919: Served in the U.S. Army (Battalion Sergeant Major)
  • 1919 - 20 : Editor, Michigan State News
  • 1921 - 22 : City Editor, Chicago Defender
  • 1923 - 35 : News Editor, Associated Negro Press
  • 1930: Covered activities of Moton Education Commission in Haiti
  • 1935: City Editor, Amsterdam News
  • 1936: Assigned to interview Emperor Haile Selassie in Bath, England
  • 1936 - 40 : City Editor, Pittsburgh Courier
  • 1940 - 56 : Executive Editor, Pittsburgh Courier
  • 1944: Received Honorary LL.D. from Wylie College, Marshall, TX
  • 1947: Admitted to membership in the Senate and House Press Galleries (first black admitted)
  • 1949: Traveled to India on assignment
  • 1951: Received Most Outstanding Alumnus Award, Hampton Institute
  • 1954: Traveled to Near Eastern countries on study tour for the American Christian Palestine Committee
  • 1956 - 61 : Editor, Pittsburgh Courier
  • 1961 - 63 : Associate Publisher and Treasurer, Pittsburgh Courier
  • 1980 Feb. 27: Died in Aspinwall, Pennsylvania.
  • l880 Aug. 27: Born in Aboskie, North Carolina (son of Lucy Peoples [father unknown])
  • l909: Graduated from the School of Law, University of Pittsburgh
  • unknown: Practiced law in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
  • unknown: Married Jessie E. Matthews
  • l9l0: Named Editor of the newly established Pittsburgh Courier (served 28 years)
  • 1933: Named Special Assistant to the U.S. Attorney General
  • l938: Became President of The Pittsburgh Courier
  • l940 Oct. 24: Died in Philadelphia of abdominal cancer.

From the guide to the Percival Leroy Prattis Papers, 1930-1980, (Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, Howard University)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
referencedIn Anderson, Trezzvant W. Trezzvant W. Anderson papers, 1939-1963. Atlanta University Center, Robert W. Woodruff Library
creatorOf Barnett, Claude, 1889-1967. Claude A. Barnett papers, 1918-1967 (bulk 1928-1963). Chicago History Museum
referencedIn Patterson, William L. (William Lorenzo), 1890-1980. William Lorenzo Patterson papers, 1919-1979 (bulk, mid-1950s-1979). Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, Howard University
referencedIn Du Bois, Shirley Graham, 1896-1977. Papers, 1865-1998 (inclusive), 1905-1975 (bulk). Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
referencedIn Papers of Shirley Graham Du Bois, 1865-1998 (inclusive), 1905-1975 (bulk) Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
referencedIn Pickens, William, 1881-1954. William Pickens papers (Additions), 1909-1950. Campbell University, Wiggins Memorial Library
creatorOf Prattis, Percival Leroy, 1895-1980. Percival L. Prattis papers, 1916-1980. University of Pittsburgh
referencedIn Bolden, Frank E., 1914-. Frank E. Bolden papers, 1930-1967. University of Pittsburgh
referencedIn Horace Mann Bond Papers, 1830-1979, 1926-1972 Special Collections and University Archives, UMass Amherst Libraries
creatorOf Percival Leroy Prattis Papers, 1930-1980 Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, Howard University
referencedIn National Negro Opera Company Collection, 1879-1997, (bulk 1930-1962) Library of Congress. Music Division
referencedIn Claude Barnett and the Associated Negro Press, 1976-1977 Indiana University, Bloomington. Center for the Study of History and Memory
creatorOf Prattis, Percival Leroy, 1895-1980. Papers, ca. 1930-ca. 1970. Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, Howard University
referencedIn William Pickens papers (Additions), 1909-1950 Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. Rare Books, Manuscripts, and Archives Section
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith Anderson, Trezzvant W. person
associatedWith Barnett, Claude, 1889-1967. person
associatedWith Bolden, Frank E., 1914- person
associatedWith Bond, Horace Mann, 1904-1972 person
associatedWith Centre Avenue YMCA (Pittsburgh, Pa.). corporateBody
associatedWith Du Bois, Shirley Graham, 1896-1977. person
associatedWith Frontiers International. corporateBody
associatedWith Indiana University Center for the Study of History and Memory corporateBody
correspondedWith National Negro Opera Company (U.S.) corporateBody
correspondedWith Patterson, William L. (William Lorenzo), 1890-1980. person
associatedWith Pickens, William, 1881-1954. person
associatedWith Pittsburgh Courier Publishing Co. corporateBody
associatedWith SHIRLEY GRAHAM DU BOIS, 1896-1977 person
associatedWith Vann, Jessie, 1885-1967. person
associatedWith Vann, Robert L., 1879-1940. person
associatedWith Vann, Robert L., 1887-1940. person
Place Name Admin Code Country
United States
African American journalists
African American newspapers
African Americans
African Americans
African Americans in the newspaper industry
Black Newspaper
African American journalists
Newspaper editors


Birth 1895-04-27

Death 1980-02-29



Ark ID: w6st7qb2

SNAC ID: 12521848