After dropping out of Wilberforce College, L. C. Bates was on a quest to come into his own. The year was 1920 and at 19 years old, he set out for Helena, Arkansas, where he accepted his first job at the Interstate Reporter. His father was friends with the publisher, H. W. Holloway, who taught Bates the ins and outs of newspaper work.
After one year at the Reporter, Bates was on to the Kansas City Call, a black-owned newspaper in Missouri. There, Bates served as a reporter under the supervision of Roy Wilkins, who later became the president of the NAACP. Bates met a number of prominent people while working for the paper, including Harry S. Truman, who became the thirty-third president of the United States. At the time of Bates’ meeting with Truman, he was running for county judge.
Bates worked for The Call for one year before deciding to start his own paper, the Western Ideal. He moved to Pueblo, Colorado, to pursue the venture, which according to him was “doing nicely” and was respected. Unfortunately, Bates quickly received his first lesson in politics.
During the election season, the “underworld element, which really ran the city,” decided to run for office. They came to Bates asking to use the paper to campaign, and Bates figured that they would win, and if they did, he would have influence in the administration. Bates granted permission for the candidates to use his paper, but they didn’t win. The Ideal folded, and Bates was forced to find another job.
He traveled to California and landed a position at the Golden Age, a Los Angeles publication. After working there for one year, he traveled back to the mid-south to start a new profession. Under the name of Bates Advertising, Bates began selling insurance and novelty advertising.
“I always liked to read, and I read as a kid, ‘the person who waits for somebody else doesn’t have sense enough to wait for himself,’ and that has stayed in my mind,” Bates said.
Bates’ job caused him to travel often and in 1924 while living in Omaha, Nebraska, he met and married his first wife, Kassandra Crawford, an Iowa native. The couple eventually moved to Memphis, where Bates continued selling insurance and advertising, covering nine states. His traveling often brought him to Arkansas.