My father always had a subscription to the Chicago Sun-Times.
It was a daily habit.
Growing up, I would see him early in the morning at the kitchen table with a cup of coffee and the newspaper spread out in front of him.
After he retired, I would come across him sitting in his recliner, reading the newspaper and commenting on stories.
“Did you see this,” he’d say, showing me a story that had set him off. “It’s right there in the paper.”
He loved to debate politics, and the Chicago Sun-Times gave him plenty of ammunition.
When my father moved to Milwaukee in the ’90s, the thing he missed most was his newspaper, and he would ask me to bring him a paper whenever I visited.
I picked up my father’s newspaper habit and his loyalty to the Chicago Sun-Times long before I became a journalist.
Frankly, in the black community the Chicago Sun-Times was so widely read, it might as well have been a black newspaper.
It was rare that you saw a black person clutching the other mainstream daily.
Part of the reason for that was black columnists like the late Vernon Jarrett, an acclaimed historian and syndicated columnist who wrote fearlessly about race relations.
Another dauntless black writer, Carl Rowan, also wrote a syndicated column for the Chicago Sun-Times that ran from 1966 to 1998.
Jarrett came to the Sun-Times in 1983.
Vernon Jarrett was named to the newspaper’s editorial board by then publisher and president Robert E. Page. | Sun-Times Photo Archives
A civil rights activist at heart, he often used his platform to inspire black Chicagoans to throw off the tyranny of machine politics by rising up at the polls.
In a column Jarrett wrote a year after Harold Washington’s death, he pointed out that Washington’s legacy was much bigger than him being the city’s first black mayor.
“When the black masses, on their own initiative, went out and conducted ‘unbelievable’ voter registration drives and then marched to the polls in great numbers, they not only elected Harold Washington the city’s first black mayor, but they also granted themselves a political self-determination they never had enjoyed before.”
Jarrett was not afraid to call out black leaders if need be.
He began one post-Harold Washington column with this lament:
“Never before in my 43 years as a resident of Chicago have I seen this city’s black community so crippled and wounded by internal strife. But the good Lord works in mysterious ways. Chicago’s burgeoning black population has been forced to confront head on its past dependency on leaders who, in fact, have been weak, unstable, dishonest and selfish. With the death of Mayor Harold Washington, the chickens have come home to roost.”
His tenure was not without controversy.
When Jarrett delivered a fiery speech before 10,000 people at a tribute to Washington the day after the mayor was buried, it rattled so many white readers, they flooded the newspaper with phone calls demanding he be fired.
“He warned against blacks who would settle for the spoils of ‘plantation politics’ and cried, ‘If we don’t do something about them, they will destroy us before the white man can get to us,’ ” the Reader reported in a feature story about Jarrett.
Despite the grief editors got from white readers, Jarrett was given the freedom to write emotionally charged columns that addressed the plight of African-Americans.
Harold Washington supporters at Northeastern Illinois University Alumni Hall held up posters of the mayor during a speech by Jane M. Byrne in February of 1987. | Sun-Times Library
We call it “speaking truth to power,” and nowhere else was it happening in mainstream media.
But in the pages of the Sun-Times, readers could trust voices that rang with the integrity of people passionate about making Chicago a better place for all of its citizens.
That is still true today.
In these pages, are Maudlyne Ihejirika, Rachel Hinton, John Fountain, Laura Washington and Natalie Moore, incredible African-American journalists and columnists with powerful stories to tell — stories that often give readers a new perspective on the issues of the day.
But these voices are likely to vanish if we don’t rally to support them.
We are asking … well begging you really … to subscribe so courageous voices will continue to have a home.
For just $7.49 a month, you get access to our digital content. If you are already a newspaper subscriber, you already have access to unlimited access to our website. Now you just need to use it.
I understand that you older readers might be reluctant to go digital. But give it a try.
It is today’s way of passing the newspaper habit on to your grandchildren.
Imagine a Chicago without the Sun-Times: An urgent appeal
‘The world wouldn’t be a world without the newspaper’ — so subscribe
Mary Mitchell and educator Leslie Baldacci are co-hosts of a popular new podcast called “Zebra Sisters” — a refreshing look at race relations from the viewpoints of two women – one black and one white. Mary and Leslie unwind awkward subjects and discuss current events with candor and humor. Subscribe (for free) on iTunes and Google Play Music — or listen to individual episodes on the Sun-Times’ website. Email Mary and Leslie at email@example.com or give them a shoutout on the Zebra Hotline (312) 321-3000, ext. ZBRA (9272).