Bates wanted to use his newspaper to attack racial injustices while also exposing blacks to the world outside of their homes. In addition, he wanted to use his platform to highlight black excellence and reveal the social life of the black community to their white counterparts.
Little Rock, home of the Arkansas State Press
When determining the perfect location for his paper, Bates decided on Little Rock mainly because the city was large enough to support a black-owned newspaper. The black community made up 23 percent of the city’s population, which was about 88,000 at the time. He was also very familiar with the city, having sold insurance and promotional advertising there for several years.
Another reason Bates might have been drawn to the city stemmed from an incident that occurred during his first visit to the city in 1927. John Carter, a black man, had been lynched and burned by a group of whites and his body was dragged up and down Ninth Street where most of the black businesses were located. Bates was never able to shake the event from his mind.
Early stages of the State Press
Starting the newspaper was a great sacrifice for Bates, but it was what he wanted. He needed $12,000 to get the State Press published, so he sold his home in Memphis for $6,000 and used what he made from his sales business to fund the rest.
The State Press found its first home at the African Methodist Episcopal Church on the corner of Ninth and Chester Streets, where Bates leased the church’s plant and printing press.The church had been publishing a newsletter, the Twin City Press, so in the first issue of the State Press, which was published on May 9, 1941, the line below the banner read, “Formerly Twin City Press.”
After two years in the church’s building, Bates was made an offer to purchase the press, but he declined because the equipment was out of date. He instead rented office space at 610 W. Ninth St. and contracted with Keith Printing Company, a white-owned business, to print the newspaper.
During their six months together, the printer often complained about the controversial articles Bates wrote. Finally, the owner of the printing company refused to publish the paper because he did not approve of an editorial that Bates had written. With the following day being press day, Bates picked up his copy of the paper and walked out of the printer’s office. He went down to Bass Printing Company, also a white-owned business, and arranged a deal with the company.
Luckily, the newspaper came out on time and for the next few years, Bates used the company’s printing services until he obtained his own equipment in 1945 and moved to a permanent location at 806 W. Ninth St. in the heart of the black community. The State Press was incorporated that year to raise money to purchase a printing plant. The Bateses later bought out all of the firm’s stakeholders.
Making it work
As owners of an up-and-coming publication, the Bateses did whatever they could to keep their operation afloat. L. C. was the reporter, editor, typesetter, and sold advertising. Daisy was responsible for keeping the books and overseeing the paper boys. She also wrote articles, especially social news, and sold advertising. L. C. also hired two printers, two secretaries, and an additional reporter.
From time to time, L. C. served as the photographer after being taught how to develop his own film from an employee at the Little Rock photographic firm, Ben Red’s Studio. He used the office building’s bathroom as his darkroom. He also utilized the services of freelance photographer, Geleve Grice, who went on to operate a photographic service in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, as well as the services of Earl Davy, who later became a photographer with the Navy Department at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.
Identity of the State Press
To make his publication stand out, Bates decided early on to have the paper distributed with a green sheet on the outside cover. This way, the paper would be easily recognizable.
The State Press was a standard-sized newspaper with eight columns and eight pages. There were always plenty of pictures throughout the paper and on the front cover.
Bates was adamant about covering all angles of life in the black community in his paper, much like that of black-owned publications up north that he admired, including the Chicago Defender, which still prints today, and The Crisis, a magazine of the National Association of Colored People (NAACP). He covered sports, religion, and social news, creating a society page for black social life, a practice that was not exercised in white newspapers of the community. It wouldn’t be until after the civil rights movement in the 1960s that white newspapers would show blacks in a positive light.
He also made sure to cover the happenings of the white community that affected blacks in Little Rock and surrounding areas. The paper often swarmed with headlines such as “Negro Soldiers Given Lesson in White Supremacy in Sheridan” or “Grand Jury Can’t Make it Rape When Rapist is White.”
Editorials also appeared regularly on the front page of the paper, which sometimes spilled over onto the editorial page, which often featured guest editorials. In addition, the paper featured news columns from other communities and small towns from around the state.