Media Watch: Sun-Times reporters, pundits, dishonor traditions of Lu Palmer and Chicago Times

Forty years ago this December, one Chicago reporter blew the lid off a national scandal and set the stage for several major changes in Chicago politics. It took 14 more years, but everyone who knew Chicago politics back in the 1960s knew that a major contribution to the election of Harold Washington as Mayor of Chicago in 1983 was the reporting Lu Palmer did on December 4, 1969 and in the days that followed December 4, 1969.

What Lu Palmer did on December 4, 1969 was go to a crime scene and prove by great reporting and courageous writing that official Chicago had just murdered two leaders of Black Chicago and that official Chicago was lying and covering up the murder. That reporter, Lu Palmer, was also a friend for years, but not when I first read his work in December 1969 after the Chicago State's Attorney's Police raided the West Side apartment housing the Black Panthers and murdered Fred Hampton and Mark Clark in their beds.

On December 4, 1969, I was teaching at DuSable Upper Grade Center in the shadow of the Robert Taylor Homes public housing project. I had already won my spurs, as they used to say, and was a veteran teacher by then, only four months after I had arrived at DuSable. In those days, the Chicago Board of Education had to hire two or three teachers new teachers for a place like DuSable in order to get one to stay for three months. The joke was we were veterans before we had finished our first year.

But December 4, 1969 was an unusual day to be a white teacher at an all-black school, especially one across the street from where David Barksdale, Jeff Fort, and Mickey Cogwell were just young men organizing what were to become the largest drug gangs in the USA, Barksdale's Black Gangster Disciples (now known without the racial adjective as the "GDs" or Gangster Disciples) and Jeff Fort and Mickey Cobras Blackstone Rangers, which were just evolving into the Black P. Stone Nation which became the central gang in the "People."

My friends at DuSable said things would be OK. A year and a half earlier, large parts of Chicago had burned after the murder of Martin Luther King Jr. by a white racist in Memphis. But by December 1969, the murder of two Black Panthers by Chicago State's Attorney's Police (some of whom were black) was not going to have the same vast impact. "You'll be OK," I was told. "Keep teaching..."

Sign on the wall of the Agape Center on 111th St. in Chicago near the spot where Fenger High School junior Derrion Albert was beaten to death on September 24, 2009. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.While the city's radicals knew from the beginning that Fred Hampton and Mark Clark had been murdered in December 1969, it took a mainstream reporter who risked his career to tell the truth. Lu Palmer at the time had a distinguished career at the old Chicago Daily News. He was a reporter and columnist, and he could have remained a well-paid and "respected" columnist if he had just stopped being such a good reporter. But after the murder of Fred Hampton and Mark Clark in their apartment at 2250 W. Monroe St. (not as some histories have it, at the Black Panther headquarters at 2350 W. Madison, two blocks away), Lu Palmer went, as reporters are supposed to do, to the scene. Lu took photographs and measured bullet holes, one by one. What Lu discovered was that State's Attorney Ed Hanrahan and his private police force had murdered Fred Hampton in his bed while he slept, and then lied about what happened. The official version of the story was that Fred Hampton had fired at police, and that police had returned fire, killing Hampton in the process.

When Lu Palmer wrote the truth in the Chicago Daily News, a long process began that led to the end of the career of State's Attorney Hanrahan and a dramatic shift in the posture of Chicago's African American politicians. Prior to the murders of Fred Hampton and Mark Clark, the majority of African American political leaders in Chicago had been slavish followers of Richard J. Daley.

After Lu Palmer was done, many of them were unable to continue their political servitude.

For more than a decade, the beneficiaries of Lu Palmer's work have resumed an earlier tradition, that of slavish subordination to the Daley administration. The most dramatic of these is Mary Mitchell of the Chicago Sun-Times, Mitchell writes about race, but can't bring herself to report that Chicago's segregation is the worst in the northern hemisphere, and that segregation facilitates some of the worst crimes against African Americans -- of all social classes -- in Chicago.

Mitchell writes about "violence" in the abstract, but refuses to name the drug gangs -- and their political allies -- that terrorize Chicago's streets.

And Mitchell writes about the public schools, slavishly following the propaganda of the Daley administration for the past 14 years. By the time Lu Palmer died, blind but not broken, he knew what he was seeing in Chicago, and he continued to talk about it for as long as he was able to work. The years I knew him and worked with him, when he was part of the leadership team of the Associated Colleges of the Midwest and I was one of the Chicago high school teachers who took students from ACM into our classrooms, Lu could see the future and was saddened by it.

There is more to this story, but this is enough for today. The men and women who followed the traditions established by Lu Palmer (and other pioneers, like Russ Ewing) have dishonored those struggles and sacrifices by their hypocrisy and dishonesty. As the hypocritical coverage of "violence" in Chicago's communities continues and the slavish praise for Richard M. Daley's "school reform" activities continues from the keyboards of Lu's heirs and heiresses, I'm stopped for a moment to think about what Lu would write and say about the way in which Chicago's mainstream media are covering these stories today.

The earth must be shaking as some of these women and men pull their comfortable desk chairs up to their keyboards. Lu may have written on an old Royal manual typewriter, but all the technology in the world could not have brought him to write the kinds of lies that are being told today by his heir and heiresses. Some time in the future I'll write about how the Chicago Times, not the Marshall Field Chicago Sun, should be the history that's honored in Chicago reporting today, and how the publisher of the Chicago Times stood against lynching during the Great Depression not in Chicago, but in Tampa, Florida, back in the days when Democrats were OK in the Jim Crow South, as long as they didn't organize the "niggers" to get uppity or anyone to join a union. But the story of the Chicago Times, like the story of Lu Palmer's reporting career, is being erased from Chicago history so that Chicago's pundits today can write in comfort — and more and more affluence — provided they don't follow in the traditions that gave them the seats in which they now sit and the pulpits from which they preach with such relentless mendacity. 

Final edited version of this article posted at October 2, 2009, 7:00 a.m. CDT. If you choose to reproduce this article in whole or in part, or any of the graphical material included with it, please give full credit to SubstanceNews as follows: Copyright © 2009 Substance, Inc., Please provide Substance with a copy of any reproductions of this material and we will let you know our terms — or you can take out a subscription to Substance (see red button to the right) and make a donation. We are asking all of our readers to either subscribe to the print edition of Substance (a bargain at $16 per year) or make a donation. Both options are available on the right side of our Home Page. For further information, feel free to call us at our office at 773-725-7502



March 29, 2015 at 5:02 AM

By: grady davis

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