Jarius Anthony Josey was born to parents Anthony and Patience Josey on January 6, 1876, in Augusta, Georgia. Josey enrolled in Atlanta University for college in the early 1900s. While a student, he co-edited the Atlanta Independent springing his roots with media. In 1905, after his graduation, he married Chestena M. Carmichael, and they moved to Madison, Wisconsin. There he enrolled in law school. Although William Noland is listed as the first African American to enroll in the University of Wisconsin’s law school in 1875, Josey’s enrollment in 1910 makes him one of the earliest African Americans to study law at the beforementioned university. Along with his wife Chestena, Josey helped found Mount Zion Baptist Church in 1915, where he later served as chairman of its board of trustees.
Yet, it is Josey’s contributions to the press that solidified his reputation in the state. With a listing of his family’s apartment on Henry Street in Madison as the office, Josey along with L.J. Quisely, Z. P. Smith, and George DeReef partnered to launch the Wisconsin Weekly Blade on June 8, 1916. Josey would eventually become the sole editor. Josey merged his Wisconsin Weekly Blade with the Milwaukee-based Wisconsin Enterprise in 1916 to form the Wisconsin Enterprise-Blade. In 1925 he moved operations to Milwaukee where he continued publishing, taking residence 471 N 7th St. in the Bronzeville community.
Josey used his editorial platform to challenge racial stereotypes, segregation, and discrimination. He created articles to address issues directly impacting the African American communities of Madison and Milwaukee while also connecting those with activities in cities throughout the entire country. His thorough work and commitment to address complicated phenomena led Josey to be elected as senior vice-president of the National Negro Press in 1928. He would continue to lead the Wisconsin Enterprise-Blade for nearly three decades until it closed in 1944.
Although the Blade’s run had ended, Josey continued to serve his community in a multitude of ways. Known as “The First Mayor of Black Milwaukee,” he created a real estate agency that catered to potential homeowners of color. Josey served as advisor to multiple youth groups that would eventually anchor the Northside YMCA. He also lobbied to enable the hiring of the first African American teachers in Milwaukee, beginning in 1931. His influence and commitment to the community was such that in 1945 he was unofficially elected the “mayor of Bronzeville,” recognizing his leadership both in and beyond the neighborhood where Josey had taken residence.
Upon Josey’s death in 1957, he was given funerals in both Madison and Milwaukee as a testament of his contributions throughout Wisconsin. In 1998 the Milwaukee Press Club, the oldest press club in the United States, inducted Josey into its Hall of Fame, making Josey the first member of the black press to receive this honor. In 2004, Clayborn Benson, director of the Wisconsin Black Historical Society, proposed that one of the city’s first new subdivision developments be named in Josey’s honor. Milwaukee approved, and today the Josey Heights subdivision bears the name in recognition of the esteemed contributions of J. Anthony Josey.