The Chicago Defender
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While researching different articles in The Chicago Defender from 1920 to 1945, multiple themes emerged. One of the most important recurring themes was how the celebration of the Fourth of July changed throughout the years. In the 1920s, there were articles explaining how the holiday ought and ought not to be celebrated. Twenty years later, much of the articles demonstrated the political activism taken on the Fourth of July for the expansion of civil rights. Another relevant theme is safety tips on how to celebrate without injury or death. Many of our articles spoke about not playing with fireworks, firearms, or any other dangerous activity. Among the themes, one of the most interesting that continued to come up was the sense of community and how the celebrations occurred. These articles would describe the details of these celebrations, including recipes, who attended, and what activities occurred. Other important themes included war effort and civil rights during World War II.
One of the most interesting articles we found dealt with a lynching that occurred in West Virginia in 1927. The lynching was the result of the biggest manhunt in West Virginia’s history. Broadus Miller, who allegedly killed a woman, went on the run for three months before he was found. After the body was brought back to the town, thousands of people came to see it to prove that the killer was dead. This article is significant because it shows the treatment of an African-American accused of murder. At the time, it was common for hunters to only shoot once to kill, but these hunters shot Broadus Miller over 30 times to ensure his death. The argument throughout the piece is the difference in treatment between racial groups in the 1920s. Whites put Miller’s body in the middle of town to face a Confederate statue to honor their ancestors. This ritual would not be done with the body of a white southerner. The lynching attracted national attention.
On July 4, 1942, an issue of the Chicago Defender contained an article titled, “12,000 In Chicago Voice Demands for Democracy”, by George F. McCray. This article detailed a civil rights rally in Chicago led by famous civil rights activist and leader of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters labor group, A. Philip Randolph. Randolph, along with other civil rights activists, called for a “March-on-Washington” in front of 12,000 working African-American men and women. The article also delves into actions being taken from the Roosevelt administration to help end discrimination in labor practices. This piece is significant because it describes the advocation of civil rights and ending public discrimination 20 years prior to the Civil Rights Movement, showing the influence of the actions taken at this rally.
The Chicago Defender of the mid-twentieth century contains a myriad of topics pertaining to the ongoing struggles of African Americans during the period, particularly in light of segregation’s looming presence over the nation. Concurrently, however, The Defender consistently sheds light on the seemingly more mundane aspects of everyday life as Americans. While the former may at first appear more important than the latter, both are necessary to uncovering the complete kaleidoscope of African American life during the post-war period, as the The Defender’s insight makes clear in the context of Independence Day. Themes pertaining to the importance of family, actively engaging in politics, staying safe around fireworks, celebrating patriotically, and seeking greater equality present themselves throughout. All in all, between 1946 and 1968, the stories found amongst the pages of The Defender spoke to the complexities of life for black Americans at a time in which segregation and Jim Crow cast a long shadow over much of the United States. An editorial in the July 7, 1951 issue of The Defender called the Fourth of July “a good time to rededicate ourselves to the task of guaranteeing full and exact independence for all Americans,” indicating an awareness of the fraught sociopolitical climate. In light of these circumstances, African Americans in The Chicago Defender weathered the ebb and flow of politics, and all the while sought to still lead fulfilling lives as participants in the great American experiment with democracy.
An important example of political action covered by The Chicago Defender during this period involved the tense build-up of the Civil Rights Movement. An article from The Defender in 1963, entitled “Chicago Hosts 54th NAACP Confab: Thousands In March” described the NAACP holding its 54th annual convention on the Fourth of July. The convention was held in Chicago with around 50,000 people and 2,000 delegates attending. Rev. W. N. Daniel, who was the president of the Chicago NAACP, mentioned the importance of this particular convention, as it “demonstrate[s] to the world the unfinished job for equal rights, particularly in the fields of education and employment.” The convention also had important figures such as Myrlie Evers, the wife of slain NAACP field secretary Medgar Evers, who was known for his achievements in his attempts to gain justice and equal rights for African Americans in Mississippi. The article describes how multiple “outstanding” NAACP members from all over the country attended the convention as the convention was thought to “have a tremendous influence in Congress in relation to enactment on civil rights issues” as Clarence Laws, Southwest regional secretary of the NAACP, noted. The main purpose of this convention was to highlight the injustice and unequal rights that African Americans were experiencing in regards to education and employment.
On this important holiday the people of Chicago not only faced oppression, but they also looked to enjoy the day and celebrate the Fourth of July. Throughout this period the ideas of the holiday were still brought to the minds of the people even with the still struggling ideas of equality. The article “PLAY IT SAFE… AND COOL” shows this idea better than any other. In July of 1967 the people of Chicago were set to enjoy the holiday, and the local Managers of the Lake Meadows shopping center got together to put out a message to their public. This message was to have fun over the holiday, while still being safe. The authors brought up a ten point program in order to make sure that people were safe in the celebratory activities that they were going to be doing over the holiday, but were not concerned with people rioting or any such issue. Some of the ideas brought up were have your car checked before heading out, make sure that your food is fine for your picnic, and use safe fireworks. The people of Chicago saw the violence and protests that were happening, but were able to enjoy the holiday. The Chicago Defender reported the events as they happened and was a clear representation of the times with the spirit of Chicago.