People likened Thomas to a Wild West newsman, an X-rated Walter Winchell, a blues lyricist. In later years he was also called an ancestor of gangsta rap. But he considered himself none of these things—in his own eyes he was a crusader against crime, an exposer of wrongdoing, and he had absolute confidence in the righteousness of every word that he wrote. His persona in print was that of a hanging judge; he thought of his paper as a public service. But the man also liked to sell newspapers. At its peak in the 1970s it had newsstand sales of 50,000. Thomas relied not on advertising but on circulation—the popular vote—and at a time when black business success came rarely, people around St. Louis referred to the editor as a “black millionaire.”
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