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Ben Burns and the Boundaries of Black Print in Chicago, 1942–1954

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 July 2018

History Department, Northumbria University. Email:
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This article focusses on the career of Ben Burns, a white Jewish radical who came to play a central role in Chicago's black press during the mid-twentieth century. As an editor for periodicals such as the Chicago Defender, Negro Digest and Ebony, Burns helped to edit and develop some of the nation's most influential black publications. However, many of his readers remained oblivious to his racial identity – something which was both implicitly and explicitly obscured by his employers, and which was influenced by and manifested itself through the spatial politics of the workplace and the Chicago South Side. Drawing on a range of archival and biographical material, personal correspondence, and newspaper and magazine articles, this paper reconsiders Burns's literal movement through the terrain of Chicago's black press to assess his broader influence as a white editor in black journalism. Complicating depictions of Burns as a racial interloper, this article situates his contributions within a broader history of white participation in black print production. Furthermore, it demonstrates how the parameters of his role were heavily framed by the complex racial and spatial politics of the editorial room and Chicago's urban politics at mid-century.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press and British Association for American Studies 2018 

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113 Rudolph Dunbar, “Larry Winters a Favorite in a Small Café in Paris,” New York Amsterdam News, 24 June 1950, 7.

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123 Mullen, Popular Fronts, 54.

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