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Nick Chiles

Portrait of Nick Chiles

African American newspaperman
Born: 1867, Cross Roads, Darlington County, South Carolina. Married Minnie Elizabeth Smith in South Carolina. they had two daughters. She died January 9, 1917. Married Henriette Harper, 1923. Died: October 29, 1929, Topeka, Kansas.

Nicholas Chiles was born in Cross Roads, South Carolina, to Moses and Winnie Chiles. There he attended school and sold newspapers, developing an interest in the industry. He studied law with a prominent Southern judge and then lived briefly in Chicago.

Chiles moved to Topeka in 1886. There he worked in the grocery, restaurant, and hotel businesses. Joseph Bass and Will Pope sold him a newspaper they had founded, the Topeka Call. He renamed the newspaper and in January 1899 published the first issue of the Topeka Plaindealer. He served as editor and publisher for the rest of his life.

Chiles developed a reputation for his timely and thought-provoking editorials on subjects of concern to African Americans in Topeka, around Kansas, and beyond the state's borders. A savvy businessman, Chiles grew the Plaindealer to be the most successful Black newspaper in Kansas. It was among the strongest Black newspapers in the nation, and the longest running.

Joining other Black newspapermen in Kansas City, Missouri, on July 14, 1896, Chiles helped to found the Western Negro Publishers Association. The association helped forge interstate connections and set editorial goals for advocacy and education. Operating until 1920, it comprised Black publishers in Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, and Oklahoma.

Although Chiles was said to operate a saloon in the basement of his hotel, he grew sympathetic for Carry Nation. When she was arrested during her campaign in Topeka, Chiles provided money for her bail. The two joined a brief partnership and published The Smasher's Mail, which she edited. After three issues, the partnership ended.

With anticipation, Chiles celebrated the Reverend Charles Sheldon's effort to edit the Topeka Daily Capital for one week in 1900 "as Jesus would do." Disappointed in the effort, and with that of the Protestant church for not standing up to racism, Chiles invited the new Pope Pius X to speak out on behalf of the Catholic Church. After receiving a letter from the Pontiff's secretary months later, Chiles was gratified.

He became of member of the African Methodist Episcopal Church of Topeka in 1910. He complained that U.S. Senator Charles Curtis did not champion the voting rights of Southern Black voters, and decided to challenge Curtis in the Republican primary in 1926. Chiles was defeated and Curtis prevailed against the Democrat in the general election. 

Chiles died in 1929. After Chiles' death the Plaindealer was operated by a firm in Kansas City and it continued until November 1958.

Entry: Chiles, Nick

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: April 2010

Date Modified: May 2022

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.