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Black History Month: Helena mayor reads one of Montana's African-American newspapers

MTN partnered with the Montana Historical Society.
Wilmot Collins Black History Month
Posted at 1:01 PM, Feb 18, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-18 15:07:37-05

HELENA — February is Black History Month and to commemorate, MTN News has partnered with the Montana Historical Society and gathered Helena community members to read written works from African- American figures in Montana. MTN News met with our first participant, Wilmot Collins, the mayor Helena. He read an excerpt from one of Montana’s early African-American newspapers.

Mayor Collins reads:

“We be-speak for our people a bright future. Slowly but surely their sterling qualities are becoming known, and ere long the ban of prejudice which overhangs them like a pall will be dispelled by the light of favorable public opinion, and then will the future blossom and ripen into fruit that will only await our efforts.”

Mayor Collins’ reading comes from the first issue of “The Colored Citizen," one of three African-American newspapers to have existed in Montana. This newspaper existed for several months in 1894 in Helena.

The first issue of "The Colored Citizen"

Mayor Collins reads:
“Hedge in on all sides by adverse circumstances our people are bound to evolve into usefulness and greatness. Barriers must be surmounted and public sentiment one over in our behalf.”

Mayor Collins is reading a letter written by James Presley Ball Jr., the editor of the paper.

On the second page of the first issue of "The Colored Citizen"

According to the Montana Historical Society, Ball wanted to convince the African-American community to unite behind Helena as the first choice for the new state capital.

Mayor Collins reads: “We ask the aid and cooperation of our fellow citizens on behalf of our people and of this Enterprise. Just in proportion to the aid received will result be obtained. We launched this Venture with no enemies to punish but very very many kind friends to favor.”

In 1894, Helena was competing against the town of Anaconda to become the state capital. The Colored Citizen had significant influence in the African American community.

Helena won the capital selection battle by less than 2,000 votes, out of more than 52,000 votes cast.

Click here to view the entire first issue of the newspaper.