Search more than 3,000 biographies of contemporary and classic poets.
James Edward McCall was born on September 2, 1880, in Montgomery, Alabama. He was the eldest son Ed McCall, who had been formerly enslaved by a plantation owner in Lowndes County and later served for twenty-three years as a cook in the Montgomery Police Station. His mother, Mary (née Allen), had also been enslaved in Lowndes County. McCall attended public schools in Montgomery and graduated from the Normal School for Colored Students (also known as the Alabama State Normal) in Montgomery in 1900. In the same year, he enrolled at Howard University with the intention of studying medicine. Several months later, he contracted typhoid fever, which led to total blindness, thereby causing McCall to give up his studies. McCall did eventually obtain a degree from Albion College in Michigan in 1907. Subsequently, McCall took a course in advertising at Page-Davis Advertising School in Chicago and another in journalism at the National Press Association in Indianapolis.
McCall began to write poems, some of which were published in Southern newspapers and others in the New York World. McCall is perhaps better known for his work as a journalist. From 1917 to 1920, he published the Emancipator, an Alabama-based African American newspaper that he printed alongside his wife, Margaret McCall. Threats from the Ku Klux Klan caused the couple and their two daughters to relocate to Detroit. While there, the McCalls began to edit the Detroit Independent before starting the Detroit Tribune, another African American newspaper, in 1933. The publication served as a platform for activism and progressive politics. The McCalls sold the newspaper in the mid-1940s and retired.
Though McCall never published a collection of poems, one of his works, “The New Negro,” was published in Caroling Dusk (Harper & Brothers, 1927), a seminal anthology edited by Countee Cullen. Several decades later, this poem and “Tribute to Countee Cullen” were anthologized with the work of numerous other Detroit-based poets in Rosey E. Pool’s Beyond the Blues: New Poems by American Negroes (The Hand and Flower Press, 1962)
James Edward McCall died in 1963.