The Banner-Enterprise was a weekly African American newspaper created by the merger of The Carolina Enterprise of Goldsboro, North Carolina and the Banner of Raleigh, NC. Based in Raleigh, the Banner-Enterprise published its first issue in 1883. The newspaper served as the official organ of the North Carolina Industrial Association (NCIA), a civic organization created by Black leaders in 1879 and chartered “to encourage and promote the development of the industrial and educational resources of the colored people of North Carolina.” The Banner-Enterprise succeeded The Journal of Industry in serving as the newspaper for the NCIA.
The Banner-Enterprise represented not only a merger of titles, but also a joining of the editors and publishers of its two preceding newspapers. Ezekiel Ezra Smith (1852-1933) founded the Carolina Enterprise in 1881. Smith was among the first graduating class of Shaw University, whose roots lie in a school founded in 1866 to teach formerly enslaved people to read and interpret the Bible. In addition to his newspaper work, Smith was a teacher, a school administrator, and an ordained Baptist minister. Smith was a loyal Democrat, and in 1888, President Grover Cleveland appointed him as resident minister and general consul to the Republic of Liberia.
Smith shared oversight of the Carolina Enterprise with George Allen Mebane (1850-1901). Mebane was born to enslaved parents in Bertie County, North Carolina. He appears to have lived with his parents in Pennsylvania prior to joining the 85th New York Regiment of Volunteers as a “mess boy” in 1864. He returned to Bertie County in 1871 and worked as a teacher. Mebane served two terms in the North Carolina Senate in the late 1870s and early 1880s. His career also included serving as register of deeds in Bertie County, operating a general store, and helping establish a school to train Black teachers in Elizabeth City, N.C.
John H. Williamson (1846-1911) served as the third partner in formation of the Banner-Enterprise. Williamson was born into slavery in Georgia and moved with his mother to Louisburg, North Carolina in 1858. He learned to read by the end of the Civil War and served as a delegate to the Freedmen’s Convention in Raleigh in fall 1865. He remained politically active, serving six terms in the North Carolina legislature, more than any other African American legislator in the state during the nineteenth century. Williamson’s political career also included positions as justice of the peace, county registrar of deeds, member of his county board of education, and delegate to three Republican National Conventions. He established the Raleigh Banner in 1881, the same year that he was elected secretary of the North Carolina Industrial Association.
In the Banner-Enterprise‘s debut issue on April 19, 1883, the editors wrote that their newspaper sought to “impress upon all the dignity, manliness, and reward of honest labor.” They added, “While this is not a partisan journal, we shall keep a watchful eye upon the political issues of the day, giving commendation wheresoever we think it due, and fearlessly condemning error and injustice without regards to politics or party.”