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This Day in History: March 28th

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“Panther with a Pen,” Lutrelle Palmer Was Born

Lutrelle Fleming Palmer Jr., known as the Godfather of Chicago’s Black political activism, was born on March 28, 1922, in Newport News, Virginia. “Lu” Palmer used his pen as a mighty sword as a journalist for Chicago Defender, the Chicago Daily News and other news outlets to push the agenda of the Black community in Chicago.

Palmer’s family was a big influence on him. His father was an educator and principal of Huntington High School in Newport News and his sisters also pursued careers in education. Palmer received a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Virginia Union University in Richmond, Va. and a master’s in journalism from Syracuse University in Syracuse, N.Y. He almost completed a doctorate in communications at the University of Iowa but was unable to finish his dissertation after a mishap on the train. 

Palmer came to Chicago in 1950 and worked as a reporter for the Chicago Defender. He also reported for other newspapers including the Chicago American, the Chicago Daily News, where he was a syndicated columnist and the Tri-State Defender based in Tennessee, where he worked as the editor.

Palmer’s work bridged the gap between journalism and activism. He was one of the first reporters to question the motives behind the raid that led to the deaths of Black Panther leaders Fred Hampton and Mark Clark. Following their deaths, Palmer spoke out and reported from a view that was contrary to the standard belief. 

Palmer’s positions on social issues often caused him trouble at work. Three years after the murder of Hampton and Clark, he quit his job with the Daily News in protest against editors that he felt were interfering with his columns. Once Palmer left the Daily News, he started the Black X-Press, a weekly paper that was in publication for two years. 

In 1983, Palmer shifted his focus and became a supporter of Harold Washington who became Chicago’s first African-American mayor. While working as a community activist, he founded Chicago Black United Communities, the Black Independent Political Organization and served as chairman of a group living facility for boys.

He established the Black Independent Political Organization, which helped to register voters, offer political education classes and present its own candidates.

From 1983 to his retirement in 2001, Palmer hosted a talk show centered around news and issues taking place. Lu Palmer died of pneumonia at the age of 82 on September 12, 2004. His honors include Chicago State University Black Writers’ Hall of Fame, induction into the Black Journalists Hall of Fame and Grambling State’s Outstanding Service Award. 

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