Do you know this man? Have you ever seen this man? Does the name Yahsai Ben Israel ring a bell? What about the name Charles “Chuck” Harris? Or how about just referring to him as “the man who used to publish the newspaper?” Well, if you answered no to any of those questions, you are a very new West Sider.
If Herb Kent is the “Mayor of Bronzeville” and Cliff Kelley is the “Governor of Talk Radio,” Yahsai Ben Israel, aka Charles “Chuck” Harris, is our “Warrior of the West Side.”
So I was honored to get a call a while back and ask to help co-ordinate a tribute to him?”a tribute that will be given while he is still alive to see it. What was most amazing looking back over the history of Harris on the West Side was that the battles he undertook 40 years ago are the same one we still must fight today.
What makes Harris a Warrior for the West Side? Well let’s take a look back at just some of his history on our side of town. He has been the executive director of the West Side W.E.B. Dubois Freedom Center as well as an organizer for the Dubois Freedom Clubs of America. In 1965, he led and organized the successful protest to get black firemen assigned to the then all-white fire station which was located in the 3100 block of West Lake Street. That same year he also protested to get blacks hired in the meat and produce sections of the National Food Store which was located at Pulaski and Maypole. Harris also convened one of the largest protests ever against the Chicago Public Schools when he had over 10,000 people march on the school board headquarters to protest then-superintendent Ben Willis’ use of those “Willis Wagons” (mobile classrooms). That crowd was so large, the intersections of LaSalle, Wacker, Lake and Randolph were brought to a halt as the school board was located in that area at the time.
But what Harris is best known for is that he has, over the past 40 years, published a newspaper (or was involved in managing one). Do you remember any of these newspapers that once covered the black West Side? The STRUGGLE, the West Side Mandate Newspaper, the Chicago Metro News or the Metro Advocate newspaper? Or how about his column, titled, “Definitions and Contradictions?”
Did you know that Harris was the one who founded the Taste of Austin? Or that he worked to organize an association for jitney cabdrivers? What about the MissMrs.Mr. & Mrs. West Side Beauty Pageants? How many politicians, past and present, owe their being in office to Harris?
Long before the Internet, blogs and pod casting, black journalists like Harris served to underscore and highlight the issues as they affect the black community. In fact, without the small local newspapers, many communities on the West Side wouldn’t know of any news unless it was bad news. Just take the current case of Howard Morgan, who was shot 25 times by the Chicago Police Department. His release on bail didn’t rate a single mention in the Chicago Sun-Times or Tribune. Yet by the time this column is published, everybody on the West Side will have heard of the four teenagers who robbed some women going to a wedding at Garfield Park.
So I am proud to co-sponsor an event to honor Harris at THE TRUTH Spotlight Award ceremony. The event will be hosted by former Ch. 2 news anchor John Davis and co-hosted by WVON’s Cliff Kelley. It will be held on Saturday, Dec. 10 at the beautiful Prince Hall Masonic Temple 809 E. 42nd Pl. That building, which is black-owned and operated by the Masons has plenty of free parking. I attended an event there a few weeks back and was pleased to see that we have for our community a beautiful jewel in that facility. The building also offers free parking and the banquet hall is wheelchair accessible. The award ceremony will be held from 8 p.m.-12 a.m. Tickets are $15 and can be bought at the door.
I am inviting fellow warriors to come out and celebrate this momentous occasion with Harris. Come and show support for this elder who has been there for us as he fought battle after battle to bring about change on the West Side. Come share your story of being a warrior as well, past and present. But most of all come out and join me for an evening honoring a living warrior for all that he has done and will yet do. For additional information, call 773/817-8075.