By BILL ARCHER
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
You don’t need a license to be a journalist. All you need is a desire to serve and a willingness to work and meet the informational needs of a diverse newspaper-reading public. C.W. Tiffany accepted those challenges and wrote the news of his community at a time when all news was presented in black and white, and the community — at least in Bluefield — was also mostly divided along the same lines.
Clarence William Tiffany was born somewhere in Virginia on July 14, 1897. His father was Anderson Tiffany, and records in the Mercer County clerk’s office list his mother as “not known.” Tiffany was only 13 when he moved to Bluefield in 1910. At that time, there was at least one other Tiffany family member living in town — Mrs. Mary Tiffany, who lived in a residence at 222 Beasley St.
God only knows what brought Tiffany to Bluefield at a time when the city was about to become the supply hub of the Pocahontas Coalfields, but in the 60-plus years that followed, Tiffany became a leader in education, faith, social services and information. Most people of the present era don’t know why the city’s largest housing development — Tiffany Manor — is named in his honor. Tiffany earned the honor through community service and not because of any wealth he may have accumulated in his lifetime.
The late Professor John R. Rankin relied heavily on Tiffany’s recollections of the early history of Bluefield when Rankin, who taught history at Bluefield State College, compiled information for his 1948 master’s theses at West Virginia University. Tiffany himself had earned his undergraduate degree at BSC and also earned his master’s degree from WVU in the early 1920s. However, Rankin drew heavily upon the written legacy that Tiffany had created as a correspondent ... a reporter ... for the Bluefield Daily Telegraph.
As early as 1922 when a cub correspondent named Eddie Steele started hammering out news of the Richlands, Va., community for the Daily Telegraph, the newspaper relied upon its network of correspondents to fill the pages of each edition of the daily paper. Almost every community with a coal mine had a correspondent, and all of them were paid on a flat rate multiplied by the total inch-count measurement of copy that the paper published.
Before his death, Steele said that he scoured the dictionary daily to find words with more letters — for example, “feline” instead of “cat” — in order to inflate his pay. Correspondents connected the columns together in strings of copy for county editors to measure and calculate their pay. Correspondents are still called “stringers,” in modern newspapers. Correspondents rarely had their bylines attached to their stories, although they often wrote front-page stories in areas of their expertise. They were reporters.
By the time of his death on Jan. 31, 1973, C.W. Tiffany had earned a great deal of respect among his colleagues at the newspaper. His front-page obituary on Feb. 1, 1973 listed his career in publication starting with his service in the Mercer County Schools as a 14-year-term principal of Jones Street School starting in 1925, and another 10-year term as principal of Hancock School starting in 1954 until his retirement in 1963. In the periods between serving as a school administrator, Tiffany taught at Bluestone School in Bramwell, as well as Genoa and Park Central high schools in Bluefield.
Through most of that time, Tiffany also served as an ordained minister and was last known as the pastor of Alexander Memorial Methodist Church in Tip Top, Va., when he died. Tiffany was also a U.S. Army veteran of World War I, and an active member of Bluefield’s Roy Scott Post No. 39, of the American Legion that was located on North Mercer Street in Bluefield. Like many institutions of the pre-integration era, the American Legion was segregated after World War I, and well into the 20th Century.
Tiffany was plugged into everything, and his connections provided him insights into an important part of the city that existed, but was little known. Much of Tiffany’s correspondent reports contained personally styled information about people visiting relatives out of town, academic or professional accomplishments or illnesses and recoveries. The columns also included a fair amount of school news — elementary, secondary and college — as well as military service and a healthy amount of church news. His 1973 obituary also contains the notation that he worked as a volunteer with the Community Christmas Tree for more than 40 years.
To the eyes of modern readers, it is difficult to see beyond the derogatory head that the newspaper used: “News of the Colored Section,” or simply, “Colored News,” in some cases. It would be impossible to speculate as to how Tiffany felt about the heading the editors chose to appear above his regular columns. However, there is good evidence to suggest that Tiffany authored more than a column for the paper. A front page story with a photograph in the Nov. 14, 1937, edition of the Daily Telegraph, about the death of a 105-year-old resident, “Aunt” Jane Coles, demonstrates a gifted newspaper writing style as well as insights into the character of Mrs. Coles that reflect a greater understanding of life among black residents of the city that few Caucasian reporters would likely know.
Jane Coles and a great-granddaughter, Louise Wisdom, are shown together. Coles was born in 1832 on a large plantation in Pittsylvania County, Va., where she was the property of Frank Graves who owned her as a slave for 32 years until Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 set her free. Coles came to Mercer County in 1887 at the start of the coal boom, settled in Coopers for three years, and moved to Bluefield in 1890, according to the article. Although she couldn’t read or write, Coles was described as wise, witty and loved and respected by many friends. She was a member of John Stewart Methodist Church.
Also in the Nov. 14, 1937 edition on page 6, the columns beneath the “Colored News” heading reported on several activities in the community including events at BSC, local churches and even a radio program featuring the students of Jones Street School to be broadcast on WHIS-AM radio to reach students who might not be able to attend the school’s annual Thanksgiving events. In the newspaper’s 1939 recap of the region’s development, Tiffany’s insights into the region’s black community also helped provide information on former residents including Maceo Pinkard, the great jazz composer of songs like, “Sweet Georgia Brown,” and others who made their mark in entertainment, the arts, education, medicine and more.
The Reverend Tiffany was appointed by Mayor Henry Warden to serve on the Mayor’s Advisory Committee and was a charter member, as well as vice chairman of the Bluefield Housing Authority. His wife, Nora (Dockery) Tiffany passed away in January 1970. He had been a patient at the Bluefield Sanitarium for a time, but was a resident of St. Mary’s Nursing Home on Bland Street at the time of his death. He was buried at Oak Grove Cemetery in Bluewell. The Tiffany’s had no children, according to the obituary.
In 1973, the Bluefield Housing Authority named its largest development — Tiffany Manor — in his memory.
— Contact Bill Archer at firstname.lastname@example.org