George P. Stewart · 2004
By Wilma Gibbs, the Indiana Historical Society
George Pheldon Stewart, the son of William H. and Josephine Stewart, was born March 13, 1874, in Vincennes, Indiana. In 1894 George Stewart moved to Indianapolis. He married Louisville native, Fannie Caldwell, in September 1898.
Stewart, who learned much of the printing trade from his older brother, Charles, cofounded the Indianapolis Recorder with Will H. Porter. The forerunner of the Recorder was a one-page sheet known as The Directory. Stewart sold advertising for this sheet and filled the remainder of the space with church announcements. He delivered the sheets to various churches for distribution.
According to a 1920 Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce questionnaire for Industrial Survey, completed and signed by Stewart, the Recorder was established in 1897. The newspaper first located its office at 1222 W. New York St. In 1900 it moved to 414 Indiana Ave. By the summer of 1918, the newspaper had begun its reign at 518-20 Indiana Ave., where it would remain for more than half a century.
The evolution of the Recorder for the period that Stewart served as the newspaper’s publisher/editor can be seen by examining copies of the newspapers for changes in physical appearance and content. The earliest available issues contained four pages. Each page had six columns, with the last used as advertising space.
Unlike its competitors, mainly the Indianapolis Freeman and the Colored World, the Recorder included mostly local news. Much of the content revolved around ministers, churches, and religious news.
By 1903 the Recorder continued as a four-page news organ with page one generally including national news, with a limited amount of local news. National news often took the form of an appeal. Many of the articles that promoted and examined black progress were corralled in a column labeled “Race News.” Church news was found on page two, and society activities were printed on page four. An outlet for information about local African-American communities was published in a section on page three titled “From around Indiana”.
The most notable change in the newspaper during the next several years was the increase in photographs and articles about prominent individuals, not necessarily associated with religious institutions. Announcements of nationally-known individuals visiting Indiana appeared especially newsworthy. At the turn of the century, the Recorder reported the athletic fears of world bicycle champion and Indianapolis native, Marshall Walter “Major” Taylor. In 1901 the paper listed African Americans doing business in Indiana, and the following June it published the names of Black Indianapolis residents whose wealth was estimated at more than $5,000.
As publisher and editor of the Recorder, Stewart served a clearinghouse function at the newspaper. A letter would often arrive at the Recorder office requesting the editor to direct it to an Indianapolis resident for whom the writer did not have an address. Stewart’s advice was sought by strangers; correspondence arrived from other states seeking his recommendations of individuals who would serve as insurance or real estate agents.
To keep in touch with the African-American community, Stewart was active in several religious, business, political, and fraternal organizations. He joined Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church soon after his arrival in Indianapolis. To promote the business and political progress of blacks, he joined, and more often than not, took a leadership role in the Colored Republican Committee, Indiana Association of Colored Men, Indiana chapter of the National Negro Business League, and the Indiana Negro Welfare League. Fraternally, he was affiliated with the Waterford Lodge # 13; F. & A.M. Marion Lodge #5, Knights of Pythias; Persian Temple #46; Nobles Mystic Shrine; and the Indianapolis Camp of the American Woodsman. In addition to his many organizations ties.
Stewart’s business concerns (i.e. the Recorder and its print shop) mirrored his organizational affiliations. His institutional connections received generous publicity in the newspaper and conversely he supplied the printing needs of many of these businesses in the form of programs, handbills, cards, and stationery.
After Stewart died in August 1924, Fannie C. Stewart, his widow, became the Recorder’s owner and publisher; his son, Marcus, became managing editor; and his daughter, Joyce Thompson, continued in the role of business manager – a position her son, George, had in later years. Over the years other family members worked in various capacities for the newspaper. The Recorder remained in the Stewart family until 1988, when the controlling interest was sold to Eunice Trotter, Businessman William Mays secured control of the newspaper in September 1990.