Cyrus Colter Papers

Institution: Chicago Public Library - Carter G. Woodson Regional Library
9525 S. Halsted Street
Chicago, IL 60628
Phone: (312) 747-6900
Date: 1890-1995
Extent: 10 Linear Feet
Finding Aid

Biographical/Historical Note:
Cyrus Colter, a distinguished African-American writer, lawyer and professor, was born on January 8, 1910, in Noblesville, IN. Colter was the eldest of two children born to James Alexander Colter and Ethel Marietta Basset Colter, whose families had moved from North Carolina to rural Indiana in the 1830s in search of safe haven. His mother died when he was six years old, and his father worked variously as an insurance salesman, actor, musician and regional director of the Central Indiana division of the NAACP. These jobs took the family from Noblesville to Greensboro, IN, and later to Youngstown, OH, where Colter attended a private school called Rayen Academy. He pursued his undergraduate degree at Youngstown University and Ohio State before moving to Chicago in 1936 to attend the Chicago-Kent College of Law. He received his law degree in 1940 and served a brief stint with the IRS before signing up for military service in 1942. On January 1, 1943, he married Imogene Mackay, a teacher and graduate of Northwestern University. They remained together until her death in 1984.

Colter returned from World War II in 1946 having risen to the rank of captain. He set up a private practice on the South Side of Chicago, where he had served as a board member at the Parkway Community Center and thus become acquainted with many of the writers and intellectuals associated with the Chicago Renaissance. In 1951, Colter was appointed to the Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC) by Governor Adlai Stevenson. The second black person ever to hold this position, Colter’s twenty-three year tenure – serving under six Governors – became the longest in that agency's history. He was also involved in numerous civic groups in Chicago and served as board member for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Chicago Historical Society and Dalkey Archive Press.

Scope and Content Note:
The Cyrus Colter Papers consist mainly of manuscripts, correspondence, photographs, clippings and other printed matter that pertain to Colter’s forty-year career as a writer and educator; a smaller body of material pertains to Colter’s thirty-year legal and political career and his personal life. As the collection originally possessed only the most rudimentary of arrangements, it has been rearranged and divided into twelve series: Manuscripts, Correspondence, Clippings, Serials, Publicity, Teaching Materials, Miscellaneous, Legal Career, Musical Interests, Photographs, Oversized Materials and Memorabilia.

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