Watch CBS News

Civil Rights Activist Timuel Black Remembers The Chicago Defender After Its Last Printing: 'It Was A Unifying Factor'

CHICAGO (CBS) -- After more than a century, the Chicago Defender, the iconic news outlet for African Americans in Chicago and beyond, printed its last copy.

It will be continuing only as a digital operation.

"It was a unifying factor," said Timuel Black. "It was an inspiration, informational paper that we looked forward to."

Founded in a landlord's kitchen in 1905 with just 25 cents, the Chicago Defender gave a voice to the black community. The news printed in it was silenced elsewhere -- stories of segregation, oppression, war, art music and opportunity.

It inspired millions of African Americans to leave the South, connected communities and influenced readers.

Black, 100, read its very last issue and said he lived through all of the history including the Chicago race riot of 1919 and the murder of Emmet Till.

"My mother and father would read those stories and tell us, 'Be prepared,'" he said. "'This is the world you're going to have to live in, but be prepared.'"

Black is a lifetime Chicagoan and globally acclaimed civil rights champion.

He started out as a paper boy.

"I'd walk down the street saying, 'Chicago Defender!'" he said.

His family was among the millions who left the South.

"The paper said, 'Come North, young man,'" he said. "Chicago was one of the most attractive of the places that they came to."

It's safe to say there aren't many who can share the significance of this paper quite like Black.

"The paper encourages African American people to get out and vote," he said. "You may have heard of D-Day at Normandy, which was on the television. You didn't see any blacks. I was there. We lost guys in my unit. The Defender told us what was going on at home and made us feel responsible to come back.

His hope for the paper that kept him and so many others alive is that its history will continue for another century online.

The Defender's CEO did not get back to CBS 2 Wednesday, but with circulation winding way down, the group that owns it has called the decision to go all digital an economic one.

It's the same decision Chicago's Jet and Ebony have made in the past few years.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.