Sunday, April 20, 2014 - 70°F
WTTW's Chicago Stories recently made a remarkable discovery in Chicago's
media history. We uncovered the only known existing episode of Our People,
a series for, by and about, black Chicagoans, that ran from 1968 to 1972
on Channel 11. The program's host was Jim Tilmon, best known as the longtime
meteorologist at WMAQ-TV, Channel 5. In 1968 however, he was more concerned
with the racial, political and social climate of our city. On this installment
of Chicago Stories, Jim Tilmon and host John Callaway open this
long-lost time capsule for a revealing look at the viewpoint of black Chicagoans
just months after the murder of Martin Luther King.
This newly-discovered episode of Our People features guests Harold Washington, then a young State Representative who would later become Mayor of Chicago, author James Baldwin at his outspoken best, State Senator Richard Newhouse, and music by the great jazz vocalist Johnny Hartman.
Our People was the first televised weekly forum for black issues, at a time when race relations in Chicago were spinning out of control. The series took on a weight and focus very different from its original concept. "It was originally intended to be a light-hearted entertainment show," Tilmon recalls. "But it premiered a week after Dr. King was assassinated, and immediately, it turned into something much more serious. We were giving voice to people who felt at that time that they were voiceless. We wanted to fill a void... do a service." This service included reporting on the week's relevant cultural events and offering a "Where to Call Guide" for help with a variety of issues, which could be obtained through the "Action Line Girls" featured on the series.
Chicago Stories: Our People is a snapshot of a time and place, a piece of broadcasting history, and a turning point in the career of an important Chicagoan, Jim Tilmon. And, as ground-breaking as it was at the time, it is strikingly and sadly still relevant to today's issues of race and justice.
For more information relating to the host, guests and topics of Our People, visit the following websites:
A Chicago Public Library page about Harold Washington,, featuring a short biography.
A review of Johnny Hartman's first LP.
A review of Up Against Daley: The New Politics in Illinois, by Joe Matheson, a history of Chicago politics from the early 20th century, chronicling the "third force" in Illinois politics.
Dogon Village, a wide-ranging site for African-American history and contemporary topics.
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