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WESLEY, CARTER WALKER

WESLEY, CARTER WALKER (1892–1969). Carter Walker Wesley, newspaperman and lawyer, was born in Houston, Texas, on April 29, 1892, to Mabel (Green) and Harry Wesley. Educated at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, where he graduated magna cum laude with a B.A. degree in 1917, Wesley attended the newly opened black officers' training camp in Des Moines, Iowa. He graduated on October 15, 1917, and was commissioned a first lieutenant. Like other well educated black men, Wesley was later passed over for the higher ranks in favor of less educated white men, a disparity between black and white officers that was one of many Wesley observed during his experiences in the military, leaving a deep and lasting impression that informed his later career as a newspaper editor. First assigned to the Ninety-second Division at Camp Funston, Kansas, Wesley and other newly commissioned black officers were saluted by only a tenth of the white soldiers stationed there, a show of military demeanor that black soldiers at Camp Funston made a successful organized effort to rectify. In 1918 he was assigned to the 372nd Infantry Regiment in France, where the regiment underwent further training with French officers and, as part of the French Army, saw action in June in the Argonne, moving into the Verdun region by August. Transferred the following month to the 370th, Wesley participated in the battle of Oise-Aisne on September 27, 1918. At the time of the armistice, Wesley was in command of his company after the captain had been severely wounded a few days before. Returning with the Ninety-third Division in February 1919, Wesley was released from service on April 5, 1919. That fall, he enrolled in the Northwestern University Law School in Illinois, where he received a J.D. degree in 1922. With his college friend, Jack Alston Atkins, whom he had met at Fisk and who had graduated from Yale Law School, Wesley set up a law practice in Muskogee, Oklahoma, from 1922 to 1927. Wesley devoted most of his time to defending blacks who were freed slaves of Indians in Oklahoma and who, therefore, were entitled at birth to 160 acres, land that was increasingly coming under control of white men that the local courts assigned as guardians after white lawyers had the blacks declared incompetent. Eleven of the thirteen cases Wesley took to the Oklahoma Supreme Court were successful.

In 1923 Wesley married Gladys Dunbar, a woman from Ohio he had met while a student at Fisk. Wesley's son, whose mother is unknown and who had been born in Houston in 1911, came to live with them. Gladys died in 1925 of complications relating to childbirth, and Wesley sent his son back to Houston soon afterward. In 1927 Wesley moved to Houston, bringing Atkins and his family with him, and engaged in the construction and brokerage business. That year he and Atkins became associated with the Houston Informer (see HOUSTON INFORMER AND TEXAS FREEMAN), a newspaper for African Americans, whose publisher and owner, C. F. Richardson, publicized the manner in which blacks' rights were being subverted and the notion that blacks could do something to effect change. If they paid their poll taxes, blacks could vote in the general election, but the Democratic party, whose candidate was certain to win, did not allow blacks to vote in primaries, rendering the black vote ineffective. After Wesley, Atkins, Richardson, and others formed a corporation to help finance the newspaper, Wesley joined the State Bar and was allowed to practice law in Texas. As he became increasingly aware of the power of owning a publication that served the community, he limited his law practice and focused more and more on his new investment. He was auditor of the paper in 1929, vice president in 1930, and treasurer and general manager by the end of 1932; he later became publisher of the newspaper. He also owned the Dallas Express, one of a group of papers published by Freedmen's Publishing Company. The Houston Informer at one time had a statewide circulation of 45,000, and it was a crusading voice for equal rights for blacks before the integration of hotels, restaurants, and theaters in Texas in the early 1960s. It was in Wesley's office that his friend and National Association for the Advancement of Colored People attorney Thurgood Marshall dictated a brief that resulted in granting African Americans the right to vote in the primary elections in Texas. Wesley was also personally and financially supportive of Heman Marion Sweatt when he appointed Sweatt circulation manager for the Houston Informer, and when he later helped plan Sweatt's case in the landmark suit against the University of Texas (see SWEATT V. PAINTER). Wesley was a founder of the National Newspaper Publishers Association. In 1948 he was sent to Germany along with ten other black publishers to investigate claims of discrimination against black servicemen in that country. He married Doris Wooten in 1933; they were the parents of three children. Wesley died on November 10, 1969, in Houston, and he was buried in Paradise Cemetery North.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Nancy Eckols Bessent, The Publisher: A Biography of Carter W. Wesley (M.A. thesis, University of Texas at Austin, 1981). Houston Informer, November 15, 1969. International Library of Negro Life and History, 1970 Year Book (New York: Publishers Company, 1970). Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.

Richard Allen Burns

Citation

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Richard Allen Burns, "WESLEY, CARTER WALKER," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fwe28), accessed April 24, 2014. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.