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Ethan Michaeli: The Holocaust and ‘The Defender:’ Two Generations of Jewish Reporters at a Black Newspaper
December 2, 2010 @ 2:00 pm - 3:00 pm | Humanities 1, Room 620
Ethan Michaeli will explore how The Chicago Defender, the nation’s most important African American newspaper for much of the twentieth century, covered the Holocaust. During the 1940s, the newspaper’s multi-racial roster of writers, including a young Jewish editor named Ben Burns, connected the struggle of African Americans for equal rights to Nazi persecution of Jews. Burns worked closely with poet Langston Hughes and others who placed the Holocaust in the top rank of their concerns. But Burns, who had started his journalistic career at the Communist publication The Daily Worker, did not address the Holocaust directly as a Jew. Instead, he subsumed his Jewish identity and re-cast himself as a “black newspaperman, black in my orientation and thinking, in my concerns and outlook, in my friends and associations, black in everything but my skin color.” A half-century later, from 1991-1996, Ethan Michaeli worked as a copy editor and investigative reporter at The Defender, during a period in which the newspaper was still one of three dailies in Chicago. For Michaeli, the child of Holocaust survivors from Hungary, working at The Defender provided a vantage point to re-evaluate American society, as well as his own identity.
Bio: Ethan Michaeli is the author of the forthcoming book, The Defender: How Chicago’s Legendary Black Newspaper Changed America, from the Age of the Pullman Porters to the Age of Obama (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, forthcoming). In 1991, Michaeli began working for The Chicago Defender, the historic African American-owned daily newspaper, where his investigative reporting on the homeless, environmental racism, and police brutality won him awards from the Chicago Association of Black Journalists and the Muhammad Ali Foundation. In 1996, Ethan launched Residents’ Journal, an independent news magazine written for and by tenants of Chicago’s low-income public housing developments. He and the staff of Residents’ Journal have won numerous honors, including the 2006 Studs Terkel Award, and his writing has appeared in The Nation, The Chicago Tribune, In These Times, and The Forward. Michaeli’s social justice work is inspired by his parents, who survived the Auschwitz concentration camp and the Nazi occupation of their native Budapest before emigrating to Israel in 1949 and the United States in 1963.