William Elisha King was the publisher of the Dallas Express, an African American newspaper that existed for many years out of Dallas, Texas. Mr. King was a pioneer in this field and the Dallas Express is considered to be the first publication of note to serve the African American community of Texas.
Mr. King was born on June 7, 1865 to Richmond and Marguerite King in Macon, Noxubee County, Mississippi. He was one of about five siblings born to the couple between 1855 and 1869. Richmond King was a farmer in Mississippi, working on his own farm according to census records in the late 1800s.
Information always seems to be increasing but at this time, details that are available about the King family seem somewhat limited. W. E. King appears to be the best known among his immediate family, most likely due to his career in newspaper publishing and his many varied efforts in the area of civil rights.
Mr. King received his primary education in Macon, Mississippi where he is said to have graduated from high school. After high school, he taught school in Lauderdale and Jasper counties for a while and enjoyed a good reputation. Some time later around 1885, he began publishing a newspaper called Fair Play, covering the African American community and its issues. Later articles about Mr. King imply that the then controversial positions taken by the publication on civil rights issues caused him to have to leave the state for Texas where he lived the rest of his career. He was married but later apparently divorced and appears to have lived as a single man much of his life.
Mr, King came to the Dallas area in 1891, first working as managing editor of a periodical known as the Western Star, published by a Baptist minister named Rev. Isaacs. Rev. Isaacs was a well known clergyman and was active in leadership roles of the Baptist denomination in North Texas. The next year, King left the Western Star to begin his own publication called the Dallas Bee, which was renamed the Dallas Express about one year later. King was publisher and editor in chief of this newspaper until his death.
Image credit: The Dallas Express – August 30, 1919
King was well known and became a sought after speaker as the Dallas Express covered news of the African American community. It was published weekly and as of August 16, 1919, its circulation was listed at 17,320. On the fourth page, the publisher was listed as The Dallas Express Publishing Company, Incorporated. Its address was shown as 2600 Swiss Avenue. W. E. King was listed as the editor and J. R. Jordan, the manager. A one year subscription cost $1.50, prorated for shorter periods, and a single copy cost $.05. Immediately below this information were these two sentences: “Go to church tomorrow. You may be too far gone for it to save you, but you cannot hurt it.”
The bold headline on the following issue, dated August 23, 1919 read as follows: “Col. W. E. King Passes” and a sub heading that read “Former Employee Fires the Death Dealing Shot.” The article began by saying that King was shot in the upper right chest on Wednesday afternoon (August 20, 1919) at about 3:00 PM at 2811 Flora Street. Mr. King lived only a few minutes after he was shot. The accused assailant was named as Hattie C. Burleson, who turned herself in to authorities and was charged with murder. No mention was made of a possible motive, but Burleson was said to have been a former secretary to Mr. King and to have been romantically linked to Mr. King, at least at one time.
The Dallas Express continued to be published. For some time, no editor was shown but J. B. Jordan continued to be listed as its manager. Its issue of August 30, 1919 gave some background information on Burleson, stating that she had lived in Dallas two or more years, previously residing in Kaufman County. The article continued to state that Burleson had one brother living in the area and her father, a farmer, living near Terrell. The father had called the newspaper office expressing his regret for the incident. It concluded by saying that Burleson had formerly operated a rooming house at 1516 Swiss Avenue and that she was bound over for a review of the case by the grand jury.
The August 30, 1919 issue gave further information about the incident, stating that Burleson drove to the location of the shooting on Flora Street where King was recuperating from a fall from a Dallas street car. It said that the vehicle delivering Burleson to the location sped away. She walked in to find King dressed and preparing to have his evening meal. The two began talking, the article said, when Burleson drew a .38 calibre revolver and shot King at close range. A medical doctor by the name of O. Roy Busch was called to the scene where King died a few minutes later. Burleson left the area before turning herself in.
The article concluded by stating that Peoples Undertaking Company took charge of preparing the body. A Masonic funeral was later held, including a simple prayer service and brief remarks by Rev. Alexander S. Jackson. The body was released to Mr. King’s brother John King of Greenville, Mississippi for burial in Meridian, Mississippi.
The October 4, 1919 issue discussed the Dallas County grand jury consideration of the Burleson murder case and stated that Burleson was expected to be exonerated for the crime, though witnesses were continuing to be interviewed. This information was based on reports from another unnamed local periodical. Further details of the grand jury review are unknown at this time.
The exact location of Mr. King’s burial site is currently unknown. He was to have been buried along side a sister, his father and his mother. Meridian, Mississippi has three historic African American cemeteries all located close to one another: Elmwood, St. Luke’s and 10th Street Masonic Cemetery. At the present time, none of them are known to have records of King family members being buried there.
The newspaper that King had founded, the Dallas Express, was in existence for almost eighty years, finally ceasing publication about 1970. It had a number of different publishers over the years. Hattie Burleson is believed to have lived into her fifties before she passed away in the Harris County area around 1953.
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