Illinois Times, a Newspaper for the Black C-U Community

Husband-wife duo, Edger and Blanche Harris founded the Illinois Times, a newspaper created to give voice and build community within the Black citizens of Champaign-Urbana. Established in 1939, the paper was first published in Danville, Illinois, when the Harrises transferred the publication to 202 Ellis Ave, Champaign. Edgar was editor and publisher, and Blanche was circulation manager and city editor. They ran the newspaper out of their house for thirty-six years.

Illinois Times newspaper header

According to Les Jamerson, Blanche’s brother, the Harrises did it all, “[t]hey did everything from reporting, editing, typing, and distributing-except for the printing, which was sent out to a local printer.” Like the other local community papers, they reported on births, deaths, club meetings, reunions, and church news, except their coverage focused solely on the Black community, a segment lacking in the other papers.

The Harrises wanted their paper to be a catalyst that would raise the status of Blacks in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, and nationwide. They list their platform for Illinois in the newspaper’s masthead.

Illinois Times masthead

The Illinois Times also published state, national, and international news that highlighted the achievements of Blacks, the progress of desegregation, and the damage caused by discrimination. Some stories published include:

  • First Black achievements, “Birmingham’s First Negro Policeman,” “The First Negro Soap Opera: The Story of Rudy Valentine,” and the “First Black Female admitted to the bar exam in Bermuda.”
  • A February 10, 1950 editorial, “Some Facts We Cannot Ignore,” discussed unemployment and education among Blacks.

According to the community, the Illinois Times achieved its goal of providing a voice and building community. Theotto Bowles of Champaign “remember[s] it as a little news sheet. It was read quite a bit. The editor was very conscious and tried to make it very readable. When it was going, it was looked forward to.” Erma Bridgewater, herself a community leader and former neighbor of the Harrises, thought the “newspaper did help to uplift the status of the Black community, I really do, we anxiously awaited every edition of the paper.”

The Illinois Times stopped publishing in 1971. Edger Harris died on May 7, 1975. In addition to publishing the Illinois Times, he was a member of the Education Board of Unit 4 schools in Champaign and the founder of another weekly Black newspaper, the North Carolina Times, in his home state of North Carolina. Blanche Harris died July 15, 1987. She was a member of the Baha’i Faith.

If you are interested in viewing the Illinois Times, the Archives has the paper on microfilm, and it is also available online through the Illinois Digital Newspaper Collections. 

- Sherrie Bowser
  Archives Librarian

-----------

Pringle, Kirby. "A paper that became a community's voice." News-Gazette. February 11, 1988, page C-1.

Roundtree, Melinda. "The other Ilinois Times." Illinois Times Vertical File. Champaign County Historical Archvies.