Ben Burns Papers

Institution: Chicago Public Library - Carter G. Woodson Regional Library
9525 S. Halsted Street
Chicago, IL 60628
Phone: (312) 747-6900
Date: 1918-1999
Extent: 177 Linear Feet
Finding Aid

Biographical/Historical Note:
Ben Burns had a long and distinguished career as “a white editor in black journalism.” He helped found Ebony and a number of other black publications and he trained many black writers in all aspects of print journalism. After working for black publications for thirty-five years, Burns referred to himself as “a black newspaperman, black in my orientation and thinking, in my concerns and outlook, in my friends and associations, black in everything but my skin color.” Burns summarized the influence that his experiences at black publications had on him: “I am a white man who has been passing for Negro for thirty-five years.” Born Benjamin Bernstein on August 25, 1913 to Alexander, a housepainter, and Frieda Burns, Burns grew up on New York’s West Side. Burns attended New York University and received a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University in 1934. He married Esther Stern on November 28, 1937 and they had three children, Barbara, Richard and Stephen. Burns was the national editor of the Chicago Defender from 1941 - 1945, the editor of Negro Digest from 1942 - 1954, and the executive editor of Ebony from 1945 - 1954, Jet from 1950 – 1954, Sepia from 1955 - 1958 and Guns magazine from 1956 - 1958. He was later the vice president of a public relations firm, Cooper, Burns and Golin, from 1958 – 1966. He returned to journalism as the editor of the Chicago Daily Defender from 1966 - 1967 and the editor of Sepia from 1968 - 1977.

Scope and Content Note:
The Ben Burns Collection includes a wide range of materials that reflect Burns’ career in journalism as well as his personal interests and pursuits. The collection consists of correspondence, photographs, manuscripts and over one thousand clippings.

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