From NKAA, Notable Kentucky African Americans Database (main entry)

Tolbert, Hardin

(born: 1880  -  died: 1966) 

Hardin Tolbert was an outspoken newspaper publisher, journalist, and civil rights activist. On more than one occasion he was also accused of getting the story or  facts wrong.

Tolbert was publisher of the Frankfort Tribune and The Star and a correspondent for the Freeman (Indianapolis, IN). He was said to be the only African American in Kentucky who earned his living solely from his work as a newspaper correspondent [source: "Hardin Tolbert...," Freeman, 6/21/1913, p. 1].

Tolbert's office was at 425 Washington Street in Frankfort in 1911, and he later conducted business for the State Bureau at the People's Pharmacy at 118 N. Broadway, Lexington, KY. His business was also known as the Tolbert Publicity Bureau. In 1912, Tolbert expanded the operation and appointed William Baxter as regular correspondent of the Freeman in Shelbyville, KY, with headquarters in the Safell and Safell Funeral Home [source: "Mr. Baxter...," Freeman, 5/4/1912, p.  1]. In 1914, he established the Colored Bureau of Education, an employment agency for Negro teachers [source: first paragraph of "Kentucky's Capital," Freeman, 1/31/1914, p. 4].

In November of 1914, Tolbert was arrested for publishing an article that criticized President Green P. Russell of the Kentucky Normal and Industrial Institute [now Kentucky State University]; President Russell had senior student Willie Mea Toran arrested for her speech and petition against Russell's rule over the school, and student Vera Metcalf from Hopkinsville, KY was kicked out of the dorm for not signing a petition that was in support of President Russell [source: "Kentucky's Capital," Freeman, 11/14/1914, p. 2].

Tolbert also criticized three white men on the school board who endorsed President Russell's actions: Dr. C. A. Fish, George L. Hannon, and former mayor J. H. Polsgrove. All four men, Russell, Fish, Hannon, and Polsgrove, swore out warrants for the arrest of Hardin Tolbert, and he was jailed. State Superintendent Barksdale Hamlett provided the bail of $250 for his release.

Tolbert was charged with making false statements and fomenting trouble, all of which was summed up in the courtroom by the Commonwealth Attorney who said that Tolbert, a black man, had no right to criticize a white man; Tolbert was fined $10 and costs [source: "Calls colored editor "Nappy Headed Black Brute," Cleveland Gazette, 11/28/1914, p. 2].

Tolbert continued his criticism and also participated in the attempt to desegregate the Ben Ali Theater in 1915 and the Strand Theater in 1916, both in Lexington.

Tolbert would eventually leave Kentucky. In 1920, he was editor of the Cincinnati Journal [source: "Editor Hardin Tolbert...," Cleveland Gazette, 7/3/1920, p. 3]. The newspaper was located at 228 W. 8th Street; Tolbert also had a room at 636 W. 9th Street [source: William's City of Cincinnati Directory, 1919-1920, p.  2013].

Hardin Tolbert was born in February, 1880 in Shelbyville, KY, according to his World War I and World War II draft registration cards; he died June 3, 1966 in Martinsburg, WV, according to the West Virginia Certificate of Death #66008064.


Cited in this Entry

NKAA Entry: Saffell Funeral Business in Shelbyville, KY:  Daisy M., George W., and Mildred S. Saffell
NKAA Source: Frankfort tribune (newspaper)
NKAA Source: The Star (newspaper)
NKAA Source: The Freeman [Indianapolis Freeman] (newspaper)
NKAA Source: The Cleveland gazette (newspaper)
NKAA Source: Cincinnati journal (newspaper)
NKAA Source: Williams' Cincinnati directory (serial)

Related Entries Citing this Entry

NKAA Entry:  Colored Bureau of Education, Frankfort, KY
NKAA Entry:  Hippodrome Theater, Frankfort, KY

Cite This NKAA Entry:

“Tolbert, Hardin,” Notable Kentucky African Americans Database, accessed January 28, 2023,

Last modified: 2022-06-13 18:39:01