Marcus Stewart, Sr. · 1974
By Janice R. Rice
Marcus Cuthbert Stewart was born on October 17, 1904, in Indianapolis, Indiana. His parents were George Pheldon and Fannie Caldwell Stewart. He was the oldest of six children. His sisters were Joyce and Fredonia; his brothers were Theodore, Henry, and Clarence.
In 1910 Marcus started first grade in the then-segregated Public School #40. He later attended another grade school, Public School #23, which was likewise for blacks only.
From January 1917 until 1919 he attended the segregated Public School #17, which was a junior high school. It was during these years that he began working on his father’s newspaper, The Indianapolis Recorder. It was a black-oriented weekly which his father founded on June 1, 1895 (the Recorder had its origin in a church bulletin one or two years prior to that date).
Marcus worked irregularly on the paper — handling distribution, circulation, and delivering papers to the stands. He also learned to run a press.
As he attended the then-integrated Shortridge High School from 1920-1924, he began to work regularly in the printing and news departments. He handled distribution and covered, rewrote and developed stories.
Even when Marcus explained about his father’s newspaper, the white counselor at Shortridge saw no reason for him to take a typing course and refused to let him enroll. As a result, Marcus stayed out of high school for a year.
His father died in 1924, not 1928 as the newspaper sources indicate. Fortunately, George P. Stewart left insurance for his family. Marcus’ mother immediately became publisher, and it is she that he credits for the survival of the paper through her common sense, understanding and thrift.
Stewart attended Butler University in 1927 and 1928 but was not graduated. In 1928 he became editor of the Recorder and bought out another black-oriented paper, the Indianapolis Ledger.
The Depression did not hurt the Recorder as badly as it could have, thanks to shrewd money management and his father’s insurance.
In the late 1920’s the paper took a stand against the Ku Klux Klan and received threats from that group, which were turned over to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. However, nothing ever came of the threats.
Stewart was taking courses at Indiana University Extension School in Indianapolis in 1930 when he met Pauline Turner. They were married the following year. They had four children. Marcus C., Jr. and George P. II followed their father and grandfather in the newspaper business. An infant daughter died at birth, and a young son was killed in an automobile accident.
In the early 1930’s Stewart bout out another black newspaper, the Indianapolis Freeman, which was started in 1887 and at one time had been the country’s most widely circulated black newspaper.
The Recorder has always been a family enterprise. Besides his parents’ working on it, both sisters were also involved in its production. Stewart’s wife, Pauline, worked in circulation until a recent stroke. Marcus C., Jr. is in the advertising department and is slated to become advertising manager at the retirement of the present one. George P. II is the managing editor.
For years when someone missed his paper, Stewart himself would deliver it to maintain service to the customer. At one time he also handled 90 percent of the collections. His concern is to make every trip count on whatever phase of the business he is working at the time.
Through the years he and his family had to make many sacrifices to keep the paper going. One major problem was that although Stewart could borrow money from the bank, he could not do anything with it because he was black. He would need three or four linotypes, but could only buy one at a time. By sheer persistence he acquired more than $100,000 worth of equipment — one piece at a time.
His mother, Fannie, died in November 1957; she had published the paper for 33 years. Upon her death Steward became publisher and organized the George P. Stewart Printing Company, which he named for his father. (For the last 20 years his sister Fredonia has been cashier and secretary of the company.) The company prints materials for churches and lodges and does $30,000 worth of printing per year, excluding the Recorder, which is contracted out.
The Recorder, which George P. Stewart founded at 414 Indiana Avenue and printed there on a hand-operated, hand-fed press, has come a long way. The paper has moved twice before coming to its present location of 2901 North Tacoma. It has 24 employees and a circulation of 15,000 (the 1912 circulation, the first year available in the N.W. Ayer & Son’s Directory, was 1200).
The paper is mainly distributed in the Indianapolis area although some papers are mailed to former residents throughout the United States. The Recorder now uses a computer for typesetting and receives national and international news by mail.
Since 1884 25-30 black newspapers have sprung up in Indianapolis, but the Recorder has broken all longevity records. It is one of the oldest black newspapers in the country: Marcus C. Stewart must take a great deal of the credit for this accomplishment.
The Recorder has been a powerful liberal voice in the black community, but Stewart is concerned with the total community as well. He led the first challenge to change the dual order of society in Indianapolis. He took on the Ku Klux Klan as well as the entire white community in a 1943 editorial campaign, which he continued until theaters, restaurants and hotels opened up to blacks in 1949.
Through editorials he attacked unemployment, crime, the brutality of the police department, lynchings, lack of jobs and educational opportunities for blacks, and the segregation in public housing, including the prerogative to own private homes in certain sections of the city.
He was a crusader who backed worthy causes for social change and was a leader in social reform. Through his paper he pushed a request for a black police sergeant, the establishment of Douglas Park, and a campaign to minimize crime in the black community. He constantly urged his readers to vote.
Stewart voiced concern over the hospital facilities in an attempt to get blacks admitted to the city hospital. Later he spearheaded a campaign for a black hospital (which never was established). But he did win the fight to train black nurses and interns at the city hospital.
Stewart led the fight to have black store clerks work in black neighborhoods. He attacked the critical housing shortage of the black defense workers. And after a 13-year fight, he got the Indiana Athletic Association to accept Crispus Attucks High School in 1942.
Although he is a Republican, he has back political candidates with the most positive attitude, regardless of party affiliation.
The Recorder survived a boycott when influential business leaders pulled their advertising; Stewart consistently refused to compromise his principles for profit.
On July 7, 1946 the “Victory Progress Edition” of the Recorder was shipped to Cleveland, Ohio, to be printed in takes. It was a 192-page special edition which highlighted black history and progress. According to the Indianapolis News, it was one of the largest editions in Midwestern newspaper history. A copy was placed in the Library of Congress.
A 1951 editorial attacked Frank H. Best, a wealthy eccentric who backed “Vigilance, Inc.,” a Ku Klux Klan-type organization. Stewart compared Best to D.C. Stephenson of the 1920s.
The Recorder has received numerous awards for its contributions and civic ventures. The recognition ranges from a certificate from a local labor organization to an award from the Urban League of Marion, Indiana. The paper fills a news and advertising gap left by the large metropolitan papers; it focuses directly upon the problems and interests of the black community.
Through the paper Stewart has become a spiritual, social and material leader in the community, according to his long-time friend, Attorney Henry J. Richardson, Jr. At 73 Stewart continues to contribute as editor and publisher of the Recorder.
Stewart has backed the Community Fund Drive for almost half a century. For more than 40 years the Recorder has sponsored a “Christmas Cheer Fund” to raise thousands of dollars for the needy. Until approximately five years ago, he sponsored a contest for the selection of Hoosiers for the Recorder’s “Race Relations Roll.” The Recorder held an annual picnic for underprivileged children (as many as 3000) for several years — until the costs became prohibitive.
He has been a member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People for 30 years and also a member of the Masonic Lodge for as many years.
In the 1940s he was a member of the Hoosier Press Association, from which he later resigned, but plans to rejoin. For 20 years he had been a member of the National News Publishing Association, an organization composed of 130 black newspapers concerned with problems of such papers. From 1972 to 1976 he served on the NNPA Board of Directors.
He was on the board of paroles for the Indiana State Prison from 1957 to 1961 and heard appeals for paroles from prisoners with indeterminate sentences.
Stewart has been a Chamber of Commerce member for 10 years and served on a committee dealing with social problems in the community.
On April 13, 1974 Marcus C. Stewart became the first black person to be inducted into the Indiana Journalism Hall of Fame, which is sponsored by the Indiana Chapter of Sigma Delta Chi, national journalism society.