The Crusader Newspaper Group

The Chicago Crusader: A Testament of Resilience

When I first joined the staff of Chicago Crusader in June, 1961 I was a 17-year-old senior in high school just visiting my relatives for the summer. Little did I know that I was beginning a career that has lasted 63 years. In the summer of 1962, after graduating from high school, I was an University of Chicago hopeful fresh from Arkansas seeking to make my mark in the world.

Rubbing elbows with then contemporaries Dan Burley, Gus Savage, Hurley Green, and of course Crusader founders Balm L. Leavell Jr. and Joseph Jefferson. Inspired by notable Black female journalists and publishers such as Ida B. Wells, Daisy Bates, and Ethel Payne, I believed I could do that by using my pen as a sword to fight injustice, inequity, and the proliferation of Jim Crow.

The Black Press, founded in 1827, has been the custodian of narratives that mainstream outlets have historically overlooked or misrepresented. We are the keepers of history, the truth tellers, the mirror, the cheerleaders of our people.

It is within that tradition that the Chicago Crusader was born in 1940 in a small apartment inside of Ida B. Wells housing development. Franklin D. Roosevelt was U.S. President and Edward J. Kelly was mayor of Chicago. Founded by labor, business and civil rights leaders Balm Leavell and Joseph Jefferson, our newspaper not only advocated for the rights of the working-class, but also used its reach to stand as a vanguard against numerous social and political atrocities committed against Black Chicagoans–no matter who was to blame.

We also balanced our newspaper with positive, uplifting and overlooked stories that highlighted the beautiful and rich cultural heritage of our people. The Crusader chronicled every progress and accolade bestowed on community notables and featured the stories and photos of people from all aspects of business, the arts, sports, science, medicine, academia, education, politics and so forth, to inspire the generations that followed.

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It was because of the tenacious fighting spirit of the Chicago Crusader that citizens of Gary, Indiana urged us to publish a newspaper in Gary, Indiana.

My late, first husband, travelled extensively throughout the United States, the Caribbean and Africa, to forge alliances with oppressed people, and became a confidant and ally to some of the greatest people in history including Ghanian President Kwame Nkrumah, civil rights champions Malcolm X and Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., and business titans such as Ebony and Jet publisher John H. Johnson, SB Fuller, and others. He was also close to Jimmy Hoffa, president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, and various other national labor leaders of that time.

Our newspaper launched the careers of many Black journalists, and we were home to a number of influential columnists, including the Hon. Elijah Muhammad, founder of the Nation of Islam, who published his first column in our publication long before the founding of his own periodicals.

The Crusader was supported then by a robust Black business and entrepreneurial community that understood the reciprocal relationship between their advertising support our ability to remain a strong voice. Mainstream corporations and other institutions showed their respect for African American consumer dollars by also placing ads on our pages—with the understanding that we would not hesitate to shine a spotlight on any injustice or concern someone may have had with their business practices from within our community.

Balm and I often spoke about the direction of our community and the role the Crusader must play. We agreed that our newspaper, and its sister publication in Gary, Indiana, must remain independent and free to speak its truth and to be an advocate for those without resources or friends. When he died in 1968, I was now a young widow with two small children who had to carry on against great personal and professional obstacles.

In a period of rampant misogyny and sexism, we prevailed. Against political bullying and financial intimidation, we prevailed. When white or Black persons of influence took issue with words within our pages, we refused to back down and we prevailed. As the cost to go to print rose, and advertising revenue dwindled, the Chicago and Gary Crusader held steadfast, rode out the storm, and continued to be a voice for our people.

The Crusader is resilient.

Now in the 21st Century, the plight of African Americans has improved in many ways but has been stifled in many others. For every advancement we have made, there has been a massive resistance that follows–and it successfully reverses those gains. Our collective wins, now labeled as “Diversity, Equity and Inclusion” (DEI), are being undermined by the courts and elected officials of all races and, are becoming few and far between.

Though the Crusader strives to be the best in journalism, there have been times that we may have vetted sources and challenged their assertions more stringently. Sensitive to the stifling of our people’s experiences, we often will share (verbatim) what people allege or accuse or simply believe to be their truth. When we do that—sometimes those who are highlighted as perpetrators of discomfort or wrong, take issue with our newspaper. Instead of refuting the claims, sometimes they go an extra step to attack our integrity and our brand. I am sad to say that within the last 20 years, those people have mostly been among our own.

We have worked hard to ensure our people are represented in all places of power within U.S. society. DEI matters–and so does fairness, justice, and accountability. When the press gets it wrong, we are called “fake news,” “liars,” “propagandists” or worse. Publishers issue clarifications, retractions or counter points of view, or face threats of lawsuits.  The media is held accountable in ways many of the rich and powerful, and some elected officials are not.  Politicians can be voted or forced out of office, but what about those of considerable wealth or the hidden hands of power?

This is why the Black newspapers exists. We plead our own cause. Our readers are important to us. There are more than 200 Black-owned newspapers across the country who struggle each week to tell the forgotten, dismissed, and silenced stories that our readers crave. Since its founding in 1827 with Freedom’s Journal, the Black Press has played a crucial role in the direction our people are headed. We are a tool for a social change, a symbol of resistance.

Yes, Black-owned newspapers follow traditional journalistic guidelines, but we also tell it like it is—in our voices, to our diverse community of readers. And we do this with limited resources, and through the commitment of dedicated journalists, writers, photographers, copyeditors, graphic designers, circulation managers and others who understand our mission and the value of the Black Press. We don’t pay a lot; and there were times we could barely pay at all—but we keep on publishing because our community continues to need a voice. 

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Though the Black Press is rooted in its social mission, we are also businesses. As publishers we understand our mission, but as small business owners we also provide employment, training and pay to our hard-working staff, and human beings we each should be able to make enough profit to feed our own families without having to sacrifice our integrity for a buck.

Social media commentators and “influencers” posing as journalists, combined with the negative, political propaganda that has effectively soured many Americans against the working press, has taken a toll on all traditional newspapers. People don’t know who to trust. The institution of journalism has been replaced by pop-up websites, blogs and YouTube channels branded as news cites but are propaganda tools funded by various elites, philanthropists, political idealogues and dubious parties unknown.

We are not a blog, nor do we subscribe to “pink-slime” journalism. It is not our intent to write “fluff pieces” which heap lop-sided praise on individuals, though we are always delighted to share profiles of movers and shakers within our pages. When we’ve done so, the Crusader is praised for its journalism and given awards for its work. But there are times when we have shone a light upon those who have engaged in questionable, hurtful, or sometimes illegal doings. In those cases, we are slammed, and our integrity is suddenly called into question.

Please understand this: The Crusader could not be bullied when men ran it for nearly 30 years, and it won’t be bullied now that a woman runs it now. I have given my life to this newspaper much in the tradition of the overworked, unappreciated champions of our people throughout history.  In the heart of a nation where the First Amendment is revered, we stand as a defiant beacon of truth and empowerment.

In the words of El-Hajj Malik Shabazz (Malcolm X), we are “for truth no matter who tells it. I’m for justice no matter who it is for or against.”

African American-owned media outlets like the Crusader are not just news providers; we are cultural institutions that affirm the identity and aspirations of a people. The Black Press reminds all of us that freedom of the press is not merely about the absence of censorship but also about the presence of diverse perspectives.

Reporters of the Crusader, much like their forebears, also refuse to be bullied into silence. They understand that their role is not to seek approval but to demand accountability. Their words are etched in the annals of history, a testament to the power of the press when wielded with conviction and courage.

The Crusader is more than newspaper. We are the clarion call for justice, a reminder that when voices unite in truth, they can echo louder than oppression, misinformation and lies. We (,writer, photographer, and reader) are a family. We may not always get along, but we mean well, and, if anybody outside of the family comes for us, we unite and do what must be done.

As long as the God of our Ancestors allows, the Crusader will continue to write our history, to chronicle our community, to showcase our champions and opponents–one defiant word at a time. We continue to be grateful for our subscribers, who are not only in Chicago, but come from all parts of the world. We are thankful for advertisers who respect Black consumers and understand the value of supporting authentic, Black-owned newspapers such as ours.

You should know it takes great effort to get our paper out each week. We do so whether we have ample advertising or not—because our readers and the stories we share matter. Though our paper goes to bed on Wednesday, the Crusader staff may not go home until the wee hours of Thursday morning. They work hard and at times I can be a hard task master. We do this each week without fail, and I am so proud to say we have not missed an issue since we first rolled off the presses in June 1940.

To every reader of these words, please know that as long as I am able, our newspaper will be here for you. Have no fear. We will tell your story if you allow us; we will champion the righteous cause. The Chicago Crusader belongs to all of us. Continue to stand with us as we continue to stand with you. Until then, we will not be bowed.

I invite all who love freedom to continue to support us and help us celebrate this first issue of our 84th year!!!

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Dorothy R Leavell
Editor and Publisher, The Crusader Newspaper Group at The Crusader Newspaper Group | Website | + posts

Dorothy R. Leavell continues to be at the helm of the Black Press ofAmerica. Since 1968, she has served as editor and publisher of the Crusader Newspaper Group—Chicago and Gary, Ind.—after the death of her first husband Balm L. Leavell Jr., co-founder of both publications in 1940 and 1961, respectively. Once at the helm of the company, Mrs. Leavell instituted modern changes to enhance the production and effectiveness of the newspapers. She also stabilized her holdings by purchasing and upgrading the buildings, which housed its editorial and production facilities. Since its inception, the Chicago Crusader and Gary Crusader have never missed a single issue.


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