If I had to come back to Chicago, the times could not have chosen a better moment. I arrived at the Chicago Defender office October 6, 2014 and the world seemed like a brand new place. More like the distant past in a country divided over slavery than a country that had elected a Black man as its president. Black men were under siege throughout the US. The national congressional race was slated to determine President Obama’s legacy.
The Illinois gubernatorial election between incumbent Pat Quinn and Republican corporate raider Bruce Rauner shook up the Chicago Black community when some notables had broke camp seeking rewards from the Republican spoils. On the day of the election judges went missing in Cook county due to robotic calls made over the weekend that shutdown the opening of polling places on time, causing a real problem for Quinn. And then there was the Chicago mayoral race that rocked Chicago to its core.
At the heart was the feud between the Mayor and CTU president Karen Lewis who fell out of race due to a brain tumor. The incumbent and victorious Rahm Emanuel emerged only after the election went to a historical run-off. Black businessman Willie Wilson had thrown his hat in the ring surprising all with his rank as third in the race. And on the table was the Obama Presidential Library. Where would it land? The Republicans won the national Senate race forcing Obama to come out swinging like never before singlehandedly taking on the Republicans. The Ebony and JET archives went up for auction, and every other week it seemed an unarmed brother was being murdered by police.
News, news, news and all so relative to the daily lives of Black folks. So what better time than then to assume the responsibility of Executive Editor at the iconic Chicago Defender, which as the result of Robert Abbott’s advocacy for the rights and justice of his race became the most prominent Black newspaper in America with an international presence. Abbott’s scathing editorials helped to move thousands of Blacks from the South to the North, many to Chicago between 1915 and 1925. His voice resonated with and encouraged the people to seek opportunity that was not available to them in the South, resulting in perhaps the most powerful movement instigated by one man now known as the Great Migration. He actually wrote, “Come to Chicago and Prosper” and the people came. You know the rest. Chicago’s Black community went on to become one of the most educated, politically active and viable, with more independent, Black-owned businesses, entrepreneurs, tradesmen, Black bankers, educators and more.
It can be assumed that those who came took Abbott’s word seriously. The proof is in the pudding. So many fabulous businesses owned by Blacks such as Johnson Publishing Company, Supreme Life Insurance, Ultra Sheen by Johnson Products Company, Soul Train, Baldwin Ice Cream, Seaway Bank, Soft Sheen, Lusters, WVON Radio, Burrell Communications, RJ Dale, E. Morris, The Citizen Newspaper, WJPC, Elzie Higginbottom and so on. Looking at the history of African-American business success. Chicago has no equal. It was the incubator for such significant Black businesses and has continued with the success of new companies like Ariel Capital, Flowers Communications, Common Ground and leaders like the Rands, Larry Hutchins, etc. Each followe in the footsteps of the piped piper himself Robert Abbott who in fact as a businessman not only led people to the Promised Land but also inspired by his example.
So here we are 110 years later with big shoes to fill in perhaps some of the most challenging of times–not only in the lives of Blacks but in the world. Black publications are folding—still our voices must be heard. Yet we know that we stand on tall shoulders and the vision of one who saw what we have come to be as Black men and women capable of doing anything, of creating, building and amassing fortunes if we so deem it so.
We have done it and though some or much of what we know to be true has crumbled beneath us. We as the now generation in this deciding moment under the leadership of our first woman publisher Cheryl Mainor are rising once more ready to soar and lift up our people through the inspirational stories—telling our stories our way, breathing life back into the lungs of The Chicago Defender as we transition now, right now into all that we have always been and will be, The People’s paper. We are here. We are taking back our position as the voice of the Black Community as we continue the Journey to Empowerment.