Former Defender paperboys recall ‘fond’ memories

Defender founder Robert S. Abbott wanted a way to highlight the young boys who sold his then-weekly newspaper. In 1929 he established Bud Billiken Day – a day of fun – to honor them.

Defender founder Robert S. Abbott wanted a way to highlight the young boys who sold his then-weekly newspaper. In 1929 he established Bud Billiken Day – a day of fun – to honor them. The Rev. Leon Finney, pastor of Metropolitan Apostolic Community Church on the South Side, and Timuel Black, a noted historian, were among the paperboys who distributed the local paper that had a national presence. Black, who was a paperboy from 1927 to 1935, the fond memories he cherishes today are ones of pride, excitement and honor. “The paper sold for 10 cents back then and I would sell them at train stations, on elevators and the street,” Black told the Defender. “My fondest memory was the many relationships I established with readers as their paperboy.” The Defender was published every Friday so paperboys were given papers on credit and were only charged for papers they sold, said Black. At age 10 Black started selling the papers as a way to earn some money. His late brother, Attorney Walter Black, was a paperboy first and later convinced Black to also sell papers. “The Chicago Defender was a universal paper in the Black community,” Black, 91, recalls. “It was filled with stories that kept the community well informed and offered words of encouragement.” According to Black, during this era white owned newspapers often wrote negative stories about Blacks so the Defender was the only local paper that was publishing positive news about Blacks. “The Defender was part of the neighborhood,” said the DuSable High School graduate who attended school with singer Nate King Cole. Finney, who would become a paperboy nearly 25 years later, shares similar fond memories. His late uncle got him started as a paperboy. “He wanted my cousin and I to be responsible and to make some money for ourselves,” recalls Finney, 72. “My uncle would bring home a stack of Defenders every Friday and we would hit the street selling them.” It was in 1950 that Finney and his cousin worked as paperboys. It was a job that lasted one year for Finney, who was 12 years old at the time. Finney, who grew up in the Woodlawn community on the South Side, said he earned 10 cents for every paper he sold. “I believe the paper sold for 35 cents then and it was a weekly. My cousin and I would save our money and go to the post office (which was located at the time at 63rd Street and Langley Avenue) and buy U.S. savings bonds for $2,” added Finney. “My uncle was a Pullman Porter so he knew about working hard and wanted us to know the same.” While a paperboy Finney lived at 6121 S. Rhodes and sold papers between 63rd Street King Drive and Cottage Grove Avenue. Selling the Defender was no easy task, he said, especially with the stiff competition he faced. “I had to compete with the newsstands and other paperboys all trying to sell to the same folks,” the preacher and community activist said. And even though he is no longer a paperboy Finney said he still reads the Defender and still believes it is needed in the Black community. “Black people have lost their voice. The Defender has always been a voice for the Black community even though there are few places today we can say Black people have a voice,” added Finney, whose father founded the famous Chicago eatery Leon’s Barbecue. Today the Defender is published every Wednesday, sells for 50 cents and is available on newsstands all over the city. Copyright 2010 Chicago Defender

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