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James A. Ross

He was born in Columbus, Kentucky.
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Contemporary newspaper accounts of the Phyllis Wheatley Club’s protest meeting, to advocate for inclusion of the Negro Exhibit at the Pan American Exposition, named only four individuals of note: Club members, Mrs. William H. Talbert and Mrs. John Dover, Mrs. A.B. Wilson, president of the Central Union of the W.C.T.U. and Mr. James A. Ross. Ross, according to the news article, was “the well-known colored politician”. In his remarks to the two hundred people attending the rally, Ross spoke of the prejudice of the Exposition officials and declared that they had made a mistake by not appointing a colored commissioner to represent the race.

Mr. Ross was indeed well known for his political connections and was, reputedly, one of the first African Americans in the state who was active in the Democratic Party. Ross was, also, a man of many talents and numerous professions. Upon his death at the age of 72, his obituary listed several accomplishments that included careers as an attorney, race relations executive with the Works Progress Administration in Albany, real estate broker, and founder of a magazine for railroad workers and domestics that had been continuously printed since its initial publication in 1898 .

Ross was born in Columbus, Kentucky and raised in Cairo, Illinois. He moved to Buffalo in the mid 1890s. In addition to practicing law in the city, he also was engaged in various other businesses. The extent of his involvement in these activities is recounted in a Buffalo & Erie County Library publication: “In the information recorded in the City of Buffalo Directories and in census records, Ross’ profession appeared as lawyer, publisher, journalist, news dealer, editor, tobacconist and magazine publisher in a short eight-year period, from 1896 through 1903.”

As noted in his obituary, Ross founded the Gazetteer and Guide, a magazine for Negro railroad porters and hotel workers. While there appears to be some discrepancy in the date of the founding of this publication, Bullock states it was founded in Buffalo in November 1901, there is no disagreement in the fact that Ross published a magazine with varying titles until his death in 1949. His profession as a journalist is one of the important links to his involvement in the Pan-American Exposition.

Even prior to the crucial meeting of the Phyllis Wheatley Club in November of 1900, James Ross was engaged in a plan with other Negro businessmen to capitalize on the anticipated economic benefits of the Pan American Exposition. In June of 1900, the Buffalo Express reported that a company had been formed to establish a hotel for Negroes. “The Pan American Exposition is expected to furnish a large amount of fairgoers, but it is the intention to make the hotel a permanent institution and not one merely to last during the exposition.” James A. Ross, “editor of the Globe” was named as the secretary and treasurer of this new company. Other principals of the company included, D.A. Butler, a janitor at the Marine Bank who was president of the hotel company and H.F. Hamilton of the Buffalo Electric Company, who was named as the hotel manager. The hotel, proposed as the “Wormley Hotel”, was slated to be ready for guests by the fall of 1900. However, it appears that the plans were never achieved as there is no record of a Wormley Hotel in Buffalo.

In spite of this apparent set-back Ross’ involvement in the Pan American Exposition continued as evidenced by his role as a spokesperson at the Phyllis Wheatley protest. There is also reason to believe that his advocacy for placement of the Negro Exhibit at the Pan Am included an active role as the Exhibit’s curator or manager. In an apparent move to respond to the push by Blacks for involvement in the exposition, Dr. Selim Peabody, Curator of the Liberal Arts Exhibit, made the following announcement in a published interview in January 1901:

“At the Paris Exposition there was a special exhibit showing the development of the Negro race in America since emancipation for which there was, a Federal appropriation of $15,000. That exhibit will be transferred to the Pan American Exposition and here is an item of news for you – it has been decided to place it under the supervision of some person, not yet designated by the Exposition Company, of the Negro race.”

The name of the individual was not announced, however, even in subsequent communications from Exposition officials.

The most convincing evidence of Ross’ role as manager of the Exhibit, however, can be found in the “Souvenir Pamphlet of the Negro Exhibit”. This newly discovered pamphlet is the subject of a recent publication by the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library: The Forgotten ‘Negro Exhibit’: African American Involvement in Buffalo’s Pan-American Exposition, 1901. The original pamphlet contains an introductory letter from Ross to “the visitors of the Pan-American Exposition”, photos of Ross reviewing a display in the Negro Exhibit, as well as a formal photo that identifies Ross as the “Assistant in Charge, Negro Exhibit, Pan-American Exposition.” The pamphlet also has a notation on the front cover that states “Compliments of Globe and Freeman”, Mr. Ross’ magazine.

This writer recently found a contemporary newspaper article that adds weight to the belief that James Ross was in charge of the Negro Exhibit at the Pan Am. It appears that Mr. Ross, a member of the Order of the Masons, was instrumental in bringing that group to Buffalo for its annual convention. As the Sovereign Grand Inspector General, Thirty-third Degree, Ross was an influential member of this organization. The United Supreme Council of the Ancient Arabic Order Scottish Rite Masons held its annual convention from August 1-6, 1901. The local press carried several articles on the activities of the Masons, and in one noted that “the council members will visit the Exposition and Niagara Falls. Sovereign Grand Inspector Ross is in charge of the Negro educational exhibit at the Exposition, and there the colored Masons will have much to interest them.”

Finally, one other interesting piece of information regarding Ross’ Pan-Am activities can be found in an article he wrote for the Colored American. Ross extolled the virtues of Buffalo as the site for the Exposition and commended Governor Theodore Roosevelt for “placing a member of the Afro American race on the State Board of Control of the Pan Am State Building.” He also complimented W. I. Buchanan, Director General of the Exposition and Dr. Selim Peabody and recognized them as friends of the Afro American race. His one reference to the Negro Exhibit proclaimed that “the feature that will precede all others, from a recent standpoint, will be the Negro Exhibit which was seen at the Paris Exposition, under the directorate of Professor T.J. Calloway. Much could be said concerning this exhibit, but it must be seen to be appreciated.” Ross received an Honorable Mention Award from the Exposition for this article.

Further research needs to be undertaken before a definitive statement can be made about the role played by James A. Ross in the Negro Exhibit, but even without that information, his singular contributions to the Pan American Exposition are clearly documented.