Dorothy R. Leavell, publisher of the Chicago and Gary Crusader newspapers for nearly 51 years and chairman of the National Newspapers Publishers Association (NNPA), was honored on Friday, April 19 during a luncheon at the Hotel Intercontinental on Michigan Avenue.
Leavell was given a special award by the Ida B. Wells Committee from the charity organization known as Ida’s Legacy. It was founded by Delmarie Cobb, who heads and owns Publicity Works, a broadcasting and media production company in Bronzeville.
For her lifelong contributions to Chicago, Leavell was given a framed portrait of Ida B. Wells-Barnett by renowned artist Minnie Watkins.
“It was a special honor to be given an award in honor of Ida B. Wells,” Leavell said. “It was also notably special because the Crusader was born in the Ida B. Wells project. It was a double honor. No other pioneer comes close to the contributions that Ida B. Wells made to Black America.”
Former Ebony/Jet showcase impresario Devorah Crable served as mistress of ceremonies of an elegant luncheon that was attended by Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, State’s Attorney Kim Foxx and other powerful Black women in Chicago. The event’s keynote speaker, Faye Wattleton, the first Black female CEO of Planned Parenthood, inspired guests to live their own truth to uplift their families and communities.
Reverend Jennifer Tinsley from Bethel AME Church in Bronzeville, gave the invocation and benediction. She noted that she was the first Black female in her church’s 152-year history to be ordained. she also noted that Wells-Barnett was a member of Bethel AME Church and married her husband there as well.
Born into slavery in Holly Springs, Mississippi, Wells-Barnett was a suffragist and pioneering journalist who documented the lynching of thousands of Black throughout the South during segregation. Some of her investigative tactics are still used today. In addition to civil rights, Wells-Barnett also fought for women’s rights. She helped to found prominent civil rights organizations including the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the National Association of Colored Women, only to be edged out of their leadership.
Wells-Barnett and Abolitionist Frederick Douglass worked together to have organizers of the 1893 World’s Fair create a pavilion for Black residents at a time when the city was segregated and people of color were treated like second class citizens.
Wells died in Chicago in 1931. She is buried with her husband, Ferdinand in Oak Woods Cemetery in Woodlawn. Earlier this year, the City of Chicago renamed Congress Parkway after Wells-Barnett, ensuring her legacy would be known to future generations.
Leavell assumed the leadership of the Crusader newspapers in 1968 after the sudden death of her husband, Crusader founder Balm L. Leavell. At 24, with the blessing of the co-founder, Joseph H. Jefferson, Leavell ushered in a new era at the Crusader newspapers. She did this as a Black single-mother with two children to raise while serving as a woman of color in a male-dominated print industry. She steered the Chicago and Gary Crusader newspaper as advertising in the print industry declined with the rise of digital publications and social media. Out of several Black newspapers that once operated in Gary, Indiana, the Gary Crusader remains the only one in operation today.
In 2017, Leavell was elected Chairman of the National Newspapers Publishers Association (NNPA) Board of Directors, commonly known as The Black Press. The organization represents over 200 Black newspapers across the country. But being publisher of the Crusader Newspaper Group remains Leavell’s most beloved role that has forged a strong bond with her readers and community.