Dorothy R. Leavell, longtime publisher of the Chicago Crusader and the Gary (IN)Crusader, was recently elected chairman of the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA). There are more than 200 NNPA member papers from Boston to Seattle, and from Mississippi to Minnesota. The NNPA member papers have a combined readership of 15 million readers.
Leavell, who took the reins of the papers when Crusader founder, her late husband Balm died in 1968, is among only a handful of Black publishers who have been associated with one paper more than 50 years.
A Pine Bluff, AR, native, Leavell prides herself on never missing a publication date over five decades. “There were some lean periods when I was worried we might not get the paper published on time, but with God’s grace, we always made it.”
Leavell has been unwavering in her support of the NNPA, a Black Press trade association, founded in 1940 in Chicago. Her dedication has been rewarded with roles as chairman of the association and of the association’s Foundation, as well as being a regional board member several times. The 11 years she served as the association’s treasurer were unprecedented.
A consistent thread in both of her papers is Leavell’s editorial decision to uplift the Black community as much as possible. The Crusader newspapers rarely run crime stories as Leavell has offered repeatedly that mainstream media goes overboard with those kinds of stories, especially when the offender is Black. “I decided to use my pages to talk about matters and issues and topics that aren’t found in mainstream media, and frankly, rarely in other Black papers. Yes, every once in awhile we publish a crime story, but it has to be something major that impacts our community directly.”
She is firmly entrenched in the Black community. The Chicago Crusader has been located on the city’s South Side in the same location since the late 1960s. Despite drastic economic shifts in the neighborhood, Leavell says proudly that neither she, her staff, nor her property have ever been harmed by negative influences in the neighborhood. “The people in the community know what we do, and they respect us,” she says. “We have not been harmed in any way.”
Not only has she led her papers successfully over the decades, she has been instrumental in achieving many of the advances made in the Black Press. From 1995-1999, she served two consecutive terms as chairman of the NNPA. Leavell also has been a NNPA board member several times, as well as the president of the NNPA Foundation – the nonprofit arm of the organization. During her tenure as Foundation president she led a successful campaign, involving all NNPA member papers, to gain a pardon for the Wilmington 10 from the Governor of North Carolina.
She has worked to expand the visibility, impact and prominence of the NNPA by leading delegations to meet with African leaders, as well as with several U.S. presidents.
In 1998, she was named NNPA Publisher of the Year. In 2013 she served as Chairman of the National Black Chamber of Commerce, and in 2014 was appointed as board member of the National Civil Rights Hall of Fame.
She has an extensive history as a lifelong supporter of the Arts, and commitment to the community. Leavell donated a valuable personal art collection of 150 commissioned pieces to the DuSable Museum of African American History in Chicago; additionally, she is a co-founder of “Heroes in the Hood,” a program which celebrates young people in the Black community who perform volunteer services and good deeds, yet often go unrecognized.
In 2016 the National Association of Black Journalists inducted Leavell into its Hall of Fame.
She received a State of Illinois Proclamation from Governor Pat Quinn proclaiming October 21, 2014 as Dorothy Leavell Day in Illinois.
Leavell has often been honored and recognized for her philanthropic and civic contributions. A recipient of many awards, she was honored as NNPA’s Publisher of the Year (1989); the YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago; State of Indiana’s “Attorney General for a Day (June 9, 2000); Winnie Mandela Endurance with Dignity Award; Nation of Islam Distinguished Service Award; Operation PUSH Family Affair Award; by the National Association of Black Media Women; Fourth District Community Improvement Association Award in Gary; Dollars & Sense Magazine Award for Excellence in Business; the Mary McLeod Bethune Award; the Humanitarian Award from the Council on African Affairs; the Publishing Award from the National Association of Negro Business and Professional Women’s Club, and an award in honor of publishing excellence and community service by Philip Morris Companies Inc., honored as the Grand Ye Ye at the 24th Annual 2013 African Festival of the Arts Chicago, Africa International House, Inc., and State of Illinois Proclamation from Governor Pat Quinn proclaiming October 21, 2014 as Dorothy Leavell Day in Illinois.