The Indianapolis Leader began in August 1879 as the city’s first black newspaper. Three brothers, Benjamin, Robert, and James Bagby published the four-page, Republican oriented weekly with the motto “An Equal Chance and Fair Play.” The Bagbys advertised the paper as follows: “Let every colored man who favors the elevation of his race subscribe for the Leader; and let every white man who believes that slavery was a crime against humanity and that it is the duty of the ruling race to aid the Negro in his struggle for moral, social and intellectual elevation do likewise.” A correspondent to the Leader wrote, “The interchange of ideas and opinions so judiciously fostered by the Leader is most beneficial to the race in every way….It is a great educator.” The Leader encouraged northern migration for southern African Americans, and carried society news for Indianapolis’s African-American community. The Leader’s reported circulation in 1884 was 3,000. Two other African-American newspapers debuted around this time, the Indianapolis Freeman (1884) and the Indianapolis Colored World (1883).
The Bagby’s sold the Leader in 1885, and its transition at that point is unclear although it ceased to be an African-American newspaper. By 1886, Edward Hutchins was editing and publishing the Leader as a four-page, Greenback affiliated weekly. Vermillion County farmers Andrew J. and Lewis H. Johnson acquired it the next year, before Thomas J. Sharp took over as editor and publisher in 1888. Sharp advertised the Leader as “The great Union Labor paper of Indiana….It circulates…chiefly among farmers and the laboring people.” Sharp reported a circulation of 3,200 in 1888, but the figures fell to 2,300 by 1890. The falling readership perhaps prompted Sharp to sell the paper to John Medert in 1890. Sharp returned as editor in 1891, but the Leader ceased publication sometime that year.