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Vernon Jarrett

Born on June 19, 1918, in Tennessee, Vernon Jarrett was one of the nation's most prominent commentators on race relations and African American history within the United States. Newspaper, television and radio broadcasts have all been forums for his insights. Jarrett began his journalism career at the Chicago Defender,/i> during the 1940's and later worked for the Associated Negro Press before making the transition to radio in 1948. For the next three years, Jarrett and composer Oscar Brown, Jr. produced "Negro Newsfront", the nation's first daily radio newscast created by African Americans.

In 1970, Jarrett became the first African American syndicated columnist for the Chicago Tribune. He used his editorial voice as a forum for commentary on the social and economic trends affecting African Americans, as well as the global concerns of pan-African politics. During this period, Jarrett served as host on Chicago's WLS-ABC TV, where he produced nearly two thousand television broadcasts. In 1983, Jarrett left the Tribune and began writing for the Chicago Sun-Times, where he continued his tradition of political and social commentary, which has always been firmly grounded in the African American experience.

In 1977, Jarrett created the NAACP-sponsored ACT-SO program. An acronym for "Afro-Academic, Cultural, Technological, and Scientific Olympics", ACT-SO is an enrichment program for exceptional African American students nationwide. Through the program, over $1,000,000 in computers, scholarships and books have been awarded to top-ranking students, who are recognized and honored each year during ACT-SO's national television special. To date, hundreds of students across the United States have participated in the annual event.

Jarrett also became a columnist for the New York Times' New American News Syndicate and his social commentary could be heard during "The Jarrett Journal", a news show broadcast on WVON-AM, Chicago's only African American-owned radio station. He was also a member of the editorial board of the NAACP's ninety year-old magazine, The Crisis, which was created by W. E. B. Du Bois. Jarrett's outstanding journalistic efforts have earned him numerous honors and awards, including his being the first recipient of the NAACP's James Weldon Johnson Achievement Award and his 1998 induction into the National Literary Hall of Fame at the University of Chicago's Gwendolyn Brooks Center. Jarrett passed away on May 23, 2004.

Accession Number

A2000.028

Sex

Male

Archival Photo 1
Interview Date

2/10/2000 |and| 6/27/2000

Last Name

Jarrett

Maker Category
Organizations
Search Occupation Category
Archival Photo 2
First Name

Vernon

Birth City, State, Country

Saulsbury

HM ID

JAR02

Favorite Season

Fall, Spring

Sponsor

McCormick Tribune Foundation

State

Tennessee

Favorite Vacation Destination

None

Favorite Quote

Profound.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Illinois

Birth Date

6/19/1918

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Chicago

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Greens (Turnip), Peas (Black-Eyed), Ham (Smoked)

Death Date

5/23/2004

Short Description

Newspaper columnist, television host, and radio host Vernon Jarrett (1918 - 2004 ) was one of the nation's most prominent commentators on race relations and African American history within the United States. Jarrett wrote for the Chicago Tribune, the Chicago Sun-Times, as well as the Chicago Defender. Jarrett also worked extensively in radio and television including broadcasting his own show called The Jarrett Journal on WVON-AM, Chicago's only African American-owned radio station.

Employment

Chicago Defender

Associated Negro Press

Chicago Tribune

WLS TV

Chicago Sun-Times

New York Times

WVON Radio

Crisis

Main Sponsor
Favorite Color

None

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Vernon Jarrett's favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Vernon Jarrett describes his childhood as wonderful

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Vernon Jarrett recalls Joe Louis and how media and organizations served as "cement" for the mostly rural black population

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Vernon Jarrett recalls the love and solidarity in the black community of his childhood

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Vernon Jarrett remembers his parents, rural schoolteachers in Tennessee

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Vernon Jarrett talks about the start of Negro History Week and its impact in his school

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Vernon Jarrett recalls his first grade teacher's creative way of teaching about black heroes

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Vernon Jarrett recalls an essay in junior high that influenced him to become a writer

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Vernon Jarrett describes the black community's strong support for higher education

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Vernon Jarrett remembers his ongoing literature contest with a daughter of a white family he worked for

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Vernon Jarrett talks about soul food and philosophy

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Vernon Jarrett describes Southern black communities' emphasis on educational achievement against the odds

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Vernon Jarrett reveals his school suspension for kissing a white girl

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Vernon Jarrett speaks with emotion about his mother's creative writing and frustrated ambition

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Vernon Jarrett remembers the pride in education of his family and other African Americans

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Vernon Jarrett discusses the hunger for education of black people like his grandmother who illegally learned to read as a slave

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Vernon Jordan recalls a lesson from an ex-slave about respecting black women and their contributions to the race

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Vernon Jarrett talks about the need for a renewal of blacks' learning their history

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Vernon Jarrett talks about working at an Alcoa plant and joining the Navy in WWII

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Vernon Jarrett remembers his first impressions of Chicago in the 1940s

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Vernon Jarrett spells his name and discusses the date with the interviewer

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Vernon Jarrett describes his vocation as a writer and gaining employment at The Chicago Defender

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Vernon Jarrett talks about meeting W.E.B. DuBois

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Vernon Jarrett recalls librarian Vivian G. Harsh's influence on him

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Vernon Jarrett explains the importance of academic role models and mentors for younger people today

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Vernon Jarrett describes the post-war "new world" mood prevalent when he moved to Chicago to become a journalist

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Vernon Jarrett describes the appeal of The Defender and the city of Chicago to Southern blacks

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Vernon Jarrett talks about the importance of Joe Louis and radio in the African American community

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Vernon Jarrett talks about a lost sense of community

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Vernon Jordan talks about the significance of radio for the black community

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Vernon Jordan discusses the insidious racism and violence against African Americans

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Vernon Jarrett recalls the impact of black newspapers during his youth

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Vernon Jarrett recalls a lesson in race relations and pride from his father

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Vernon Jordan remembers his start at the Chicago Defender

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Vernon Jordan remembers covering white mob violence against integration of Airport Homes in Chicago, 1946

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Vernon Jarrett recalls learning that some black politicians collaborated against the interest of their people

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Vernon Jarrett explains his inspiration by courageous black journalists of his youth

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Vernon Jarrett discusses the dangers the NAACP faced in the American South

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Vernon Jarrett talks about black baseball players in the major leagues, an inspiration for African Americans

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Vernon Jarrett talks about interviewing Congressman William L. Dawson for The Chicago Defender

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Vernon Jarrett recounts some of the risks he became known for taking as a young reporter

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Vernon Jarrett explains his role in the Associated Negro Press clipping service

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Vernon Jarrett talks about black theater and radio plays in Chicago in the 1940s-1950s

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Vernon Jarrett discusses the African American housing crisis caused by restrictive covenants in Chicago

Tape: 6 Story: 9 - Vernon Jarrett details changes in Chicago from the late 1940s through the early 1960s

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Vernon Jarrett talks about his radio programs and real estate involvement, from the late 1940s to early 1950s

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Vernon Jarrett recalls his years as a brewery sales rep and writer in Kansas City during the 1950s

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Vernon Jarrett talks about his work for the Chicago Community Conservation Board and a controversial speech

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Vernon Jarrett tells about a Chicago television special to discourage riots after King's assassination, part one

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Vernon Jarrett tells about a Chicago television special to discourage riots after King's assassination, part two

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - Vernon Jarrett talks about beginning to work for WLS-TV in Chicago in 1968

Tape: 7 Story: 7 - Vernon Jarrett tells how he began working for the Chicago Tribune in 1970

Tape: 7 Story: 8 - Vernon Jarrett talks about a few factual errors that made it into his column

Tape: 8 Story: 1 - Vernon Jarrett talks about attending national political conventions and interpreting them from a black perspective

Tape: 8 Story: 2 - Vernon Jarrett talks about his role in the election of Harold Washington, Chicago's first black mayor

Tape: 8 Story: 3 - Vernon Jarrett talks about his television show and moving from the Chicago Tribune to The Chicago Sun-Times

Tape: 8 Story: 4 - Vernon Jarrett talks about the importance of mentorship to young African Americans

Tape: 8 Story: 5 - Vernon Jarrett explains the Freedom Readers program and recalls how his own interest in reading developed

Tape: 8 Story: 6 - Vernon Jarrett talks about founding the National Association of Black Journalists

Tape: 8 Story: 7 - Vernon Jarrett describes his notion of his legacy

Tape: 8 Story: 8 - Vernon Jarrett explains what made him an effective journalist

Tape: 8 Story: 9 - Vernon Jarrett discusses some of his values and beliefs

Tape: 9 Story: 1 - Vernon Jarrett discusses his philosophy on life and religious faith

Tape: 9 Story: 2 - Vernon Jarrett talks about the centrality of race in his worldview and the future of the black race

DASession

1$2

DATape

3$4

DAStory

5$3

DATitle
Vernon Jordan recalls a lesson from an ex-slave about respecting black women and their contributions to the race
Vernon Jarrett talks about meeting W.E.B. DuBois
Transcript
This part of our heritage was every day. Somebody was always stopping me on the street. When I--they'd catch you using dirty language, you know how kids playing the dozens. "Boy what are you gonna make out of yourself? You know that's a disgrace to talk--" I used to play the dozens. Are you familiar with that? It's where kids talk about each other's mama. We used to practice the dozens. We didn't have a basketball court at the time. So we'd pla--One part of the town, one community, black community would play the dozens (laughing) with another part. And I remember one Saturday afternoon, we were practicing in an alley--back of this kid's house. And there was a man, an old ex-slave. Some people said he was 100 years old. We don't know how old he was. His name was Dumas (ph.) He was sitting back there in the bushes and we didn't know it. And he heard us talk about each other's mother in rhyme. And I could rhy--I had a way with words. And I--What I said about this little boy's mother, (chuckle) after he had said something about my mother [Annie Sybil Jarrett]. Mr. Dumas came out of the bushes. I remember this kid said something awful about my mother [Annie Sybil Jarrett] and father. And, it, it was directed at toward the fact that my brother [Dr. Thomas Dunbar Jarrett] had light skin and my father [William Robert Jarrett] was darker. And I didn't like that. I thought there ought to be some boundaries where (chuckle) they draw the line. And I was trying to think of the worst thing I could say about this kid. And I heard the train whistle. The L and N railroad train, and I heard that whistle. This is where Mr. Dumas was impressed but at the same time wanted to slap me. I said,"Around the bend comes the L and N, loaded down with your mama's men," (laughing). And everybody just cracked up and this little boy almost cried and Mr. Dumas came out and he said,"I've had enough of this. And he gave us a little lecture on what slavery was like. And on black women in slavery. It was an interesting thing. It's still with me. He said,"I never thought I'd live to see the day that little black children could be out here talking about the black woman! --black mothers--the way you all are doing. You'd think we just did all of this for nothing." He said,"You all are just down here degrading and insulting black women! And all that black women have done--" he said,"Don't you know that when they were selling us, somebody would always come up and become our mother? You always knew that there would be a black mother somewhere. Somebody who had never heard of you--would make you her son. That black woman kept us together." And we stood at attention and listened. Because we were ready to do anything to keep him from going down to our parents and telling them about the dirty language we were using. And he said," I don't want to ever hear or suspect any of you little boys, all of you came from nice families, talk about black women, the way I've heard you talk about them this afternoon." And then he turned to me. Now this is interesting, very interesting. And he says,"You, you ought to be ashamed of yourself. Anybody that can put words together the way you do," he says, "you oughta be on 'The Chicago Defender.' instead of out here talking about somebody's mama," He said,"You ever read 'The Chicago Defender'?" And I said,"I'm gonna start. No sir, no sir." We were ready to do anything. But he stood there for a half an hour and gave us an oral account of what black women had contributed to the survival of our people in slavery.$$Hmm. Okay.$$Isn't that something?$$It's really. And well guess what. Evidently he passed some of this on to his kids. One of his sons was one of the first blacks to go North and graduate from Northwestern University's dental school. You see. That old man--And even--This was way before my time. And I think his son was one of the first blacks to get a degree from Northwestern Dental School in the 1920'. That's remarkable isn't it?$And you say that you spent an evening with W.E.B. [William Edward Burghardt] DuBois. Talk us about that evening.$$(Simultaneously) Well, that was in the home of Dr. Metz T. P. Lochard [Associate Editor of the Chicago Defender] when I spent a social evening. He was in the city [Chicago, Illinois]. If I'm not mistaken, that could have easily have been 1948, either '48 or 1950. I get them mixed up a bit. But I and two other journalists were permitted to bring our little girlfriends in, which meant it must have been '48 because in '50 I was married. (Chuckles.) And we sat and he--and DuBois shocked us all. You know, he was a very rigid appearing man and she said, "Well, you young people, if you'd like, you can sit on the floor. We're going to listen to some classical music." So Dr. Lochard had some big pillows and we sat there and he said, "Why not turn down the lights, Doctor." He was talking to his friend. "Turn the lights down a little low." And I was just stunned. And he smiled and he loosened his collar up. Now he was not so loose that you'd say, "Hey, Doc" or anything. You didn't call him 'Doc' and you didn't call him 'Doobie,' or you didn't go around slapping him on the back and all of that stuff. But well despite all of this formality, he came through so well with us sitting on the floor that we were anxious to get out. We just wanted the honor of being with DuBois and we wanted to go out and try to get in a nightclub. Well, I think one of us might not have been old enough to go to a nightclub, but the majority, we were going to try to get into the Club DeLisa and the Rhumboogie, which was about four blocks from where we were on 55th Street. But, you know, we did not want to leave when he got through talking. We listened to him as he put on Antonin Dvorak's 'New World Symphony' and, and he said, "Just listen for a while. I want you to just observe and see if you hear any familiar music." And then when they got to that--I forgot which section of it. It's a largo section of 'New World Symphony.' I said, "I've been hearing that all my life." He said, "That's what I thought." And he was--and he began to talk all through the symphony as to where Dvorak had gotten sections of his composition. Then he introduced to us for the first time the name of the, we learned later, Harry T. Burleigh. We said Burleigh studied under Dvorak, you know, this was shortly after the turn of the century. And when he played the largo section, I said, "I--I used to hear that at our funerals and it was called 'Going Home'," and people would sing, (singing:) "I'm just going home--da..da..da, da, da, da. Friends I knew so--" And I said, "Yeah." Well, he said, "That's precisely where you he got it. This is African-Americans' contribution to classical music." And, of course Harry T. Burleigh later became a very famous orchestra composer and writer and director. But that was one of the most enjoyable non-youthful meetings I've had with anybody. We just chatted and he was so loose, and we were looking at him with degrees of respect, and we talked about his philosophy of life and just--I still look back at this and I can't believe he was eighty years old. So this is how I can tabulate about when this was. I think he was eighty years old and we would--had the impression he might have been sixty-five or something. The man was phenomenally healthy for a person that age. I had seen him before. But part of my pay for being on The Chicago Defender was just writing for the same paper as W. E. B. DuBois, who wrote a column every week in The Chicago Defender, and so did Langston Hughes at that time. And this was a very instructive period in my life, and this is why I deal so much with young people today. These older people really had an impact on me.