Black History Month: 7 notable African American political activists who predate MLK Jr.

Philip Alexander Bell

Philip Alexander Bell (1808-1889)
Philip Alexander Bell (1808-1889) | Wikimedia Commons

Philip Alexander Bell was born in 1808 in New York City and was an abolitionist best known for journalistic efforts, becoming an influential figure in the African American community in 19th-century California.

Bell started as an employee of the abolitionist newspaper The Liberator, owned by white anti-slavery activist William Lloyd Garrison, before founding his first paper in 1837.

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"In 1862, Bell joined forces with Peter Anderson to edit the Pacific Appeal, one of the first major black newspapers in California, but he and Anderson soon clashed," wrote Susan Bragg of BlackPast in 2007.

"By 1865, Bell established his own weekly newspaper, the Elevator, under the slogan, 'Equality Before the Law.' The Elevator demanded California legislators approve the proposed Reconstruction-era constitutional amendments acknowledging black citizenship and suffrage rights."

In 1876, as Reconstruction was nearing its end, Bell organized the politically independent Equal Rights League to lobby politicians to support better opportunities for African Americans. 

Bell died in 1889.

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