Saturday, February 21, 2015

Moses L. Tucker (1868-1926)

In 1888, Edward Elder Cooper (1859-1908), originally of Jacksonville, Florida, began publishing the Indianapolis Freeman, a successor to the Indianapolis Colored World and soon to be billed as "America's First Illustrated Colored Weekly." Although it did not start as an illustrated paper, The Freeman switched to that format in September 1888. Late that year or early the next, Cooper recruited Henry Jackson Lewis (ca. 1837-1891) of Pine Bluff, Arkansas, to work for him as a cartoonist and illustrator. According to Marvin D. Jeter, Lewis' earliest surviving cartoon in The Freeman is from February 2, 1889. (1) The cartoon is political in nature, making it perhaps the first of its kind by a black artist in an American newspaper. As a pioneer working for a pioneering newspaper, Lewis blazed a trail for other black cartoonists and illustrators, including Garfield Thomas Haywood (1880-1931) and Hale Aspacio Woodruff (1900-1980). Both men worked for The Freeman before it came to a close in 1926.

Probably the first to follow in Lewis' footsteps was Moses Lenore Tucker. Little is known of Tucker's life, but according to James E. Brunson III, Edward E. Cooper hired the Georgia native in 1889 after Henry Jackson Lewis had contracted what would prove to be a fatal case of pneumonia. (2) Edward H. Lee of Chicago joined Lewis and Tucker at The Freeman at about the same time. "Having added a new force to our staff of artists," Cooper announced, "we are now prepared to give a larger quantity and a better quality of illustrations." (3) Together, Lewis, Tucker, and Lee drew the newspaper's masthead, column headings, political cartoons, portrait drawings, and other graphics. As Lewis' illness worsened, more work fell upon Tucker and Lee, and though Tucker was reputed to be a lightning-fast artist--he could draw rapidly with either hand--both men became dissatisfied with their treatment by their editor. That dissatisfaction arose from Cooper's practice of paying flat rates, retaining all rights to his artists' work, and selling that work to other newspapers, presumably without compensating them. (Today we would call that kind of arrangement work-for-hire.) Tucker and Lee finally left The Freeman for another black newspaper called The Appeal. (4) Henry Jackson Lewis' last drawing for The Freeman in his lifetime was published on March 28, 1891. He died less than two weeks later, on April 9, 1891.

Moses Tucker's career in Indianapolis didn't end when he left The Freeman, but there is scant information on his life after his break with the paper. There is only a little more information about him before he arrived in Indianapolis. His story hinges, in part, on the identity of a man named Moses Tucker who was enumerated in the U.S. census as an inmate in Indianapolis in 1900 and 1910. That man had been born in Georgia in 1868. But was he Moses Lenore Tucker, the artist previously with The Freeman? In his article on Edward E. Cooper, James E. Brunson provides evidence that Moses L. Tucker was indeed institutionalized later in life:
Tucker's wild lifestyle, coupled with addictions to cigarettes and opium, [Cooper] wrote, caused a mental breakdown, forcing the artist to enter an insane asylum. There is truth to this claim: in the 1920s, the artist resided in a local asylum, while continuing his creative output. (5)
Mr. Brunson's point is that Cooper often "scolded his critics" and "publicly chastised those who crossed him" (6). By leaving Cooper's employ, Tucker must have brought down Cooper's wrath upon himself. But the quote above also serves to connect the census records with the artist, Moses Tucker. Combined with what we previously knew of him, the knowledge that Tucker was institutionalized helps us draw a fuller portrait of him, although there is still plenty of room for conjecture.

Moses Lenore Tucker was born in 1868 in Georgia less than four years after the Civil War had ended and almost certainly to former slaves. In the 1880 census, Tucker was in Atlanta. When Edward Elder Cooper found him almost a decade later, Tucker was working at the Atlanta Engraving Company and drawing portraits, cartoons, and caricatures for a periodical called The Georgia CrackerTucker is also supposed to have contributed to Life and Judge, both of which had been in print since the early 1880s. Tucker would have been about twenty-one when he made the move to The Freeman

Moses L. Tucker presumably arrived in Indianapolis in 1889. In the city directory of 1890, he was listed as an engraver at The Freeman, with an address of 518 North West Street. In his article, Mr. Brunson suggests that Tucker left The Freeman not long after that (perhaps in 1890 or 1891) for a job at The Appeal. He may very well have left with Edward H. Lee for Chicago, Lee's home city, where The Appeal had regional offices and published a local edition. In any case, Tucker was in Indianapolis by 1900 when he was enumerated in the census as an inmate. He was again enumerated as an inmate in 1910. According to James E. Brunson III, Tucker remained in "a local asylum" into the 1920s, where he continued to create works of art. As it turns out, that place was the Marion County Asylum for the Incurably Insane, located in Julietta, east-southeast of Indianapolis on the county line. The asylum was opened in 1899. It seems likely that Moses Tucker was at the Julietta asylum in 1900, 1910, and 1920. He died there in September 1926 of tuberculosis.

In this Black History Month, and the 126th anniversary month of what may have been the first political cartoon drawn by a black artist and printed in and American newspaper, we can celebrate Edward Elder Cooper and the artists of The Freeman, including Henry Jackson Lewis, Edward H. Lee, Garfield Thomas Haywood, Hale Aspacio Woodruff, and Moses Lenore Tucker.

(1) Jeter, Marvin D., ed. Edward Palmer's Arkansaw Mounds (Tuscaloosa, AL: University of Alabama Press, 1990), p. 78.
(2) Brunson, James E., III. "Edward Elder Cooper: Entrepreneur, Journalist, Aesthete, and Baseball Enthusiast," Traces of Indiana and Midwestern History, Fall 2010, p. 32.
(3) Quoted in Brunson, Traces, pp. 32-33.
(4) Originally The Western Appeal, the newspaper was first published in Minneapolis, Minnesota. In 1888, the publishers opened regional offices in Chicago and Louisville. The opening of other regional offices followed. The title of the newspaper was shortened from The Western Appeal to The Appeal in 1889. It is ironic that the editor of a newspaper called The Freeman would treat its artists--one of whom had been born into slavery and at least one other as the child of slaves--in the way that it did, but this is how the world treats artists in general.
(5) Brunson, Traces, p. 33.
(6) Ditto.

Further Reading
Brunson, James E., III. The Early Image of Black Baseball: Race and Representation in the Popular Press, 1871-1890 (Jefferson, NC: McFarland and Company, 2009). Tucker is mentioned in several places in this book.
Brunson, James E., III. "Edward Elder Cooper: Entrepreneur, Journalist, Aesthete, and Baseball Enthusiast," Traces of Indiana and Midwestern History, Fall 2010, pp. 30-35.
Jeter, Marvin D., ed. Edward Palmer's Arkansaw Mounds (Tuscaloosa, AL: University of Alabama Press, 1990), p. 78. The book includes a lengthy discussion of the life and work of Henry Jackson Lewis.
Sachsman, David B., et al., eds. Seeking a Voice: Images of Race and Gender in the 19th Century Press (West Lafayette, IN: Purdue University Press, 2009), p. 134.
Taylor, Garland Martin. "Out of Jest: The Art of Henry Jackson Lewis," Critical Inquiry, Comics and Media issue, Spring 2014 (Vol. 40, Issue 3), pp. 198-202.
And a source that I would very much like to see but which is unavailable to me:
Covo, Jacqueline. "Henry Jackson Lewis and Moses L. Tucker: 19th Century Cartoonists: The Indianapolis Freeman." A paper presented at the 61st Annual Meeting of the Study of Afro-American Life and History, Chicago, Illinois, Oct. 27-31, 1976.

An editorial cartoon by Moses Lenore Tucker from the Indianapolis Freeman, March 21, 1890. From the blog Songs Without Words, "a digital exhibit made possible by a Faculty Development Grant from the State University of New York, College at Old Westbury."

An unsigned cartoon from The Freeman from January 18, 1890. The blog Songs Without Words says that it is probably Tucker's work. Note the reference to Tucker's former home state.

Another cartoon by Tucker, from The Freeman, September 27, 1890. 

The asylum at Julietta, along Brookville Road in far eastern Marion County, Indiana. Moses L. Tucker was institutionalized here as of 1903, probably before and certainly after. At the time, the institution was called the Asylum for the Incurably Insane. It went by other names and served other purposes over the course of its history, from its founding in 1899 to its closing in the 1990s.

Central State Hospital, the Old Main Building and the place where male patients were kept. If Moses L. Tucker was ever institutionalized here, he may very well have lived in this building. Update (Mar. 8, 2017): Based on updated information, it seems unlikely now that Tucker ever lived at Central State.

Updated March 8, 2017. Thanks to Terry S. for further information on Moses Tucker.
Text and captions copyright 2015 Terence E. Hanley


  1. We have a copy of Moses Tucker's death certificate. He died in September of 1926, still in residence at the Julietta home. The cause of death was noted as tuberculosis. I don't believe Moses was ever a patient at Central State.

    We have more information and some of his original pen and ink drawings done mostly in the early 1920s.

    1. Dear Terry,

      Thank you for the information. Can you send me an image of the death certificate at

      Also, sorry for the late reply. For some reason, I don't receive automatic email messages when comments are posted on this blog. If you or someone else can advise me on how to change that, please do.

      Thanks for writing.

      Terence Hanley

    2. Dear Terrence,

      I just now returned to this web site since back in 2015. Sorry for not checking on this before. If you still have an interest in Tucker, let me know. I can provide that Death Certificate copy if you still want or need it.

      I believe you will find that his middle name is Leonard. His father, Jacob Tucker was a laborer/carpenter for a real estate developer in Atlanta - last name of Adaire. His mother's name was Anna Piedmont Tucker. Moses had several siblings.

      We have a total of around 80 pen and ink drawings Moses created mainly around 1922 and 1923 while at Julietta. We found the drawings in a trunk belonging to Evanston Earp, an Indianapolis doctor. His father, Samuel Earp had been the Indianapolis Police Surgeon during the mid 1890s till around 1900. That is when Moses was first institutionalized. Samuel Earp may have been instrumental in that. The Police Surgeon was a position similar to modern day coroners. Plus, he had police powers and could have people declared insane or incompetent and sent to jail or institutions like Julietta or Central State.

      Samuel Earp was quite the dandy. He was a first cousin of another, more famous "Earp," - Wyatt. Both were born in Illinois and were contemporaries. Wyatt lived until around 1927. Samuel died around 1935. I could go on, but, if you wish to continue your work on Moses, let us know.

    3. Dear Terry,

      I would very much like to find out more about Moses Tucker, and I would like to see whatever you're willing to offer: your original sources, the results of your research, and images of his artwork, etc. You can write to me at my email address for this website, Thank you.

      Terence Hanley

  2. Just now checking back here. We are playing a very elongated game of email tag, I guess. I will try to put something together for you over the next few days. We even have what we believe to be a photo of Moses fishing in a small pond.