Black History Month: Chicago Defender Archives

From 1942-45, Lena Horne frequently entertained American soldiers in camps along the West Coast and throughout the South. She also appeared on Armed Forces Radio Service programs such as Jubilee, G.I. Journal, and Command Performances. However, in January 1945, Horne quit the USO tour after officers at a camp in Little Rock, Arkansas, allowed Nazi war prisoners to see her performance while denying African-American soldiers the same privilege.

The Chicago Defender photograph collection includes thousands of photographs such as this one, spanning the years from the 1940s to the present. Highlights include extensive documentation of the Civil Rights movement, particularly the activities of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the NAACP; over one thousand images of Jesse Jackson documenting his career between the 1960s and the 2000s; approximately three hundred images of Harold Washington, the first black mayor of Chicago; and files for fifty-two Chicago aldermen created between the 1940s and the 1990s.

The collection is also particularly rich in the fields of arts and entertainment, from 250 images of Lena Horne produced in the 1950s to forty images of Lou Rawls produced between the 1960s and 1980s. Other prominently represented figures include Louis Armstrong, Nat King Cole, Sammy Davis, Jr., and Bill Cosby.

The collection includes approximately 200 photographs related to the murder of Emmett Till. The images include a portrait of Carolyn Bryant, a picture of Simeon Wright (a cousin of Emmett Till), Emmett Till’s unmade bed at Mose Wright’s house, Emmett Till’s casket arriving in Chicago, scenes at Till’s funeral, Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam with their young sons and the whistle stop train station in Money, Mississippi. There are also a number of photographs of courtroom scenes during the trial.

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