Special to The Times
Smiling brightly on the cover of the Chicago Defender last week, were members of the Jackie Robinson West baseball team – the newly crowned Little League national champs. At the bottom of the page was Earl Calloway – a man who would have been one of their main supporters.
For most of his life, Calloway was a cheerleader for Black American achievement, especially the arts. On Aug. 20, the 87-year-old former Defender fine arts and entertainment editor died.
Calloway, who also previously worked at the Associated Negro Press, started writing at the Defender about talented Black visual and performing artists more than a half century ago when the mainstream media rarely covered their accomplishments.
In 1970, Calloway helped start America’s longest running exhibit of African American art, now called Black Creativity at the Museum of Science of Industry in Chicago.
“He was a very caring person,” said Theresa Fambo Hooks, a longtime Defender columnist, about Calloway, whose death was noted on the Defender’s front page last week. “He was always at work.” Calloway, a founding member of the Chicago chapter of the National Association of Black Journalists, took colleagues under his wings and mentored them – like William Rogers, a Defender account executive.
Rogers described Calloway as a classy guy who exposed him to classical music. Calloway, himself, was a pianist and singer. The Roosevelt University graduate performed in Puccini operas across the country. Some friends recalled him always singing. The Birmingham, Ala., native also was a sharp dresser. He looked like he was always going out. I first met Calloway as a youngster.
I played badminton against him as a preteen at my family’s home in Robbins, Ill., just south of Chicago. He was a family friend and one of the first journalists I met. Years later, he encouraged me to pursue my own dreams of becoming a journalist.
“You can do it,” he said.
He always was quick to give advice if I needed it.
When he learned of a problem, he wanted to help.
“We started up with the idea for ‘Black Esthetics’ (now Black Creativity) to save our Black artists,” recalled artist Douglas Williams, who was one of the founders of the exhibit. “We didn’t get in galleries. Whites had the galleries. We would send in our slides of our work and we never got our slides back. It was rough.” Williams said he organized the work of the visual artists – which during the first year was more than 100 artists.
Calloway, who helped in all areas of the festival, oversaw the performing artists. When big artists were in town to perform, Calloway also would convince them to briefly appear at the event, which is held annually in the winter.
During the first year, Chicagoans and gospel legends Mahalia Jackson and Thomas Dorsey performed at the festival. “(Calloway) was a hell of a team player,” Williams said. “He made sure he held up his end.” Calloway didn’t mind helping. He knew African-Americans needed the event. Calloway always made sure he held up his end to help Black America.
Norman Parish is a Chicago based journalist. For the last three decades, he has worked at newspapers in Chicago, Cleveland, Milwaukee, Phoenix and St. Louis, including two Black publications, St. Louis American and Chicago Citizen.