The Gary Crusader, a member of the Crusader Newspaper Group, celebrates its 55th Anniversary this month. The celebration will take place on Friday, June 3, in the B. Coleman Aviation hangar at the Gary/Chicago International Airport. The theme of this year’s celebration is “Highlighting Our Past and Crusading for Our Future.”
The Crusader has served Gary well, outlasting other publications targeting the African American community. Gary has seen many ups and downs, but it has been lucky to have a powerful voice on the frontlines telling authentic stories in at least 2,860 editions published continually without missing an issue.
So often there are valuable giants in our midst and it sometimes takes a while before people recognize them. African Americans, in particular, often lament the dearth of meaningful coverage in white mainstream publications while, at the same time, overlooking the valuable gems, i.e., the Black Press, right under their noses. Fortunately for the city of Gary, Indiana, the people have understood the value of the great voice wielded by the Gary Crusader, which has survived and even thrived in the face of a myriad of obstacles.
The Gary (and Chicago) Crusaders represent the pinnacle of quality journalism. The Chicago Crusader recently celebrated its 75th Anniversary. Together, the Gary and Chicago papers have a collective existence of 130 years. That represents a lot of journalism targeting Black Americans.
The Gary Crusader was created out of a desire to address important community concerns including integration and equal opportunities for Black people. This it has done well since the beginning of its existence. As evidence of the value that the Gary Crusader has in Gary’s Black community, the chairperson of the June 3 gala is Gary’s Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson who stated, according to an article written by Gary Crusader writer Erick Johnson, “The Gary Crusader is not just a newspaper. It’s an institution and we must have a big celebration.” Further, “We know that print media in recent years have been waning, but the Gary Crusader is still here.”
The Gary Crusader was born in 1961 in a rented space on West 19th Avenue and 1930 Broadway when then Chicago Crusader Editor and Publisher, Balm L. Leavell, Jr. along with Joseph H. Jefferson, both members of the Negro Relations League in Chicago, were urged to start the publication by two members of the Nation of Islam, Hasan and Samuel Adib because Blacks in Gary were not welcomed in certain affluent neighborhoods. As members of the Negro Relations League, Leavell and Jefferson had fought for jobs, housing and education and the general upliftment of the Black community. To create a voice for the beleaguered Black community in Gary was a natural fit for them. The current publisher and editor, Dorothy R. Leavell, took over when her then husband, Balm L. Leavell, Jr., passed away after a brief illness in 1968. She has done an outstanding job in ensuring the growth of both the Gary and Chicago papers. Rather than negative aspects of the Black community, the major focus of both papers was, and remains, Black’s achievements. This approach has helped fuel the city of Gary’s rebirth as it continues to emerge from a period of decline.
The June 3rd celebration, in keeping with the positive thrust adopted by the papers, will take place in a facility named after the famed Black female aviator, Bessie Coleman. Some of Gary’s greatest luminaries will be in attendance, and it will be an opportunity to see Kujichagulia (Self-Determination) in action. It is time that Black people seriously consider self-determination as a strategy for community upliftment, and in that regard we can truly laud the Crusader Newspapers as a model. Rather than wait for others to tell our stories, the Crusader has taken the initiative and has met with considerable success. This is a good example to follow. With that said, we hope to see you at the gala on June 3! A luta continua.