The Crusader Newspaper Group

Crusader Publisher inducted into Indiana Journalism Hall of Fame

Indiana Journalism Hall of Fame

Photo caption: FAMILY AND A friend attended Dorothy Leavell’s induction banquet. From l-r: Carol
“Kay” Bell, Rhonda Joiner, Genice D. Leavell, Antonio Leavell, and Dorothy R. Leavell.

Chicago and Gary Crusader Publisher Dorothy R. Leavell is a hands-on publisher. It’s not just a self-described title, it’s actually what she has been doing for the past 55 years. On April 29, 2023, the Pine Bluff, Arkansas, native traveled to Carmel, Indiana to join five other journalists being inducted into the Indiana Journalism Hall of Fame.

When Leavell learned she had been nominated, she said, “I’m deeply humbled by this announcement and grateful to the folks at the Indiana Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists for honoring my work with the coveted Indiana Journalism Hall of Fame Award. Those in the business know how much this means to newspaper professionals.”

Leavell added, “After 50 years in the business, sharing such recognition with other respected individuals in journalism is invigorating and exciting indeed. I’m proud of all the awards I have received over the years but I have to tell you, this one is very special.”

Leavell was the fourth inductee of six to be presented with a beautifully engraved crystal award set in a rich rosewood base at the Woodland Country Club in Carmel, Indiana. The induction recognized Leavell and her contemporaries for being journalists of the “highest distinction,” and whose “dedication and contribution to journalism has resulted in a positive contribution to the communities they serve.” For Dorothy R. Leavell that community in Indiana is Gary and Northwest Indiana.

Leavell has owned the Crusader Newspaper Group, based in Chicago, since 1968, following the death of her first husband, Chicago Crusader founder Balm L. Leavell. He started the newspaper in 1940 in the former Ida B. Wells housing project. Twenty years later, he began publishing a similar newspaper in Gary, Indiana.

Her late first husband Balm had educated her on every aspect of the newspaper business. Once a young widow, despite the devastating loss of her husband Leavell crusaded forward.

“What was I to do?” queries Leavell. “I was a mother with two young children to raise. I dried my tears and pressed on, managing the business as I had watched Balm do it. I got better and stronger at being a newspaper publisher and I haven’t looked back.”

Leavell has served the Crusader as publisher and editor, delivering news while raising a family, being a human rights advocate, civil rights activist, political reformer, community leader, newspaper publisher, entrepreneurial role model, and business executive.

There is a story Leavell often tells about the promise she made to Gary once she became the publisher. The late Gary Mayor Richard Gordon Hatcher, who was the first Black mayor of Gary, was not particularly pleased with the news being reported in Gary by the various media outlets. So, when Publisher Leavell met with Hatcher, he made it very clear Gary did not need another newspaper that mainly published Chicago news.

As a hands-on publisher, she has been able to ensure the Gary Crusader Newspaper has always remained loyal to the community in its reporting. She knows the people in Gary as well as she does in Chicago. Often expressing a unique love and closer connection to the people in Gary. For years she traveled between her Chicago and Gary offices daily to publish both papers.

When the former Mayor Richard Gordon Hatcher was immortalized in a statue as the first Black mayor of Gary, Crusader Publisher Dorothy R. Leavell was among the prominent Black leaders to speak and praise Hatcher’s historic election in 1967. They had long become good friends and mutually respected one another.

The Crusader’s City Editor Erick Johnson wrote in an October 10, 2019, story titled, “Richard Gordon Hatcher Forever” how Leavell received a standing ovation for her speech at the unveiling of the statue for Richard Gordon. He wrote:

“During her speech, Leavell stirred the crowd as she proudly called Hatcher ‘a disrupter’ who dared to shakeup the city’s white political establishment that for so long had ruled City Hall while treating Black residents as second-class citizens.

“Leavell told the crowd, ‘[A disrupter] is not a negative term. It’s a great term, because when no one will disturb the norm, a disrupter who knows what it ought to be will come in and speak truth to power.

“Thank God for disrupters. If we didn’t have disrupters, we wouldn’t get anywhere.”

Leavell is a member and former president of the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) several times. She has also served as chairman of the association’s foundation. The NNPA is the only Black newspaper trade organization and it has a combined readership of more than 15 million. During her tenure in office, she increased the visibility and international stature of the organization. In 2018, Leavell became chair of the board of STM Reader LLC, publisher of the Chicago Reader newspaper.

The Indiana Journalism Hall of Fame Award represents the latest in a long string of awards Leavell has received as an award-winning print and digital journalist/publisher.

She has been inducted into the Broadcasters Print Media Hall of Fame; the National Association of Black Journalists Hall of Fame, August 2016; the Illinois Black Hall of Fame, June 2022; and she received the Illinois Press Association’s Distinguished Service Award in October 2022.

She was awarded the Gary Branch NAACP Benjamin Hooks Award, the Katie Hall Educational Foundation Award, and an award from the Urban League of Northwest Indiana.

The National Black Chamber of Commerce also presented her with its Lifetime Achievement Award.

Throughout her legendary publishing career, Leavell has made fighting inequality and economic injustice and elevating the public image of Blacks across the city and the nation a central theme, presenting the value of working-class communities to the success of midwestern cities like Gary and Chicago.

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