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Chris Benson
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Christopher Benson is an associate professor of Journalism and African American Studies, at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He earned his B.S. and M.S. degrees in journalism at the University of Illinois and his J.D. at Georgetown University. He has worked as a city hall reporter in Chicago for WBMX-FM, and as Features Editor and Washington Editor for Ebony magazine. He has written for Chicago, Savoy, Jet, and The Crisis magazines, and has contributed to The Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune, the Chicago Sun-Times and Reader’s Digest.
Chris is co-author with Mamie Till-Mobley of her memoir Death of Innocence: The Story of the Hate Crime That Changed America, (Random House, October 2003) the Essence bestseller about the life and death of Mrs. Mobley’s son, Emmett Till, and the history-making changes that followed. The book won the 2004 BlackBoard Nonfiction Book of the Year Award and the 2003 Robert F. Kennedy Book Award Special Recognition. Chris co-authored a screenplay and stage play based on the book, currently in development for production. Chris also was a co-writer and associate producer of the WTTW Channel 11 documentary “Paper Trail: 100 Years of the Chicago Defender,” broadcast by the Chicago PBS station in June 2005. Chris was honored with two of the documentary’s three 2005-2006 Emmy Awards for Outstanding Achievement presented by the Midwest Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences (narrator Harry Lennix won the third Emmy), and with the 2005 Peter Lisagor Award for exemplary journalism (documentary) presented by the Chicago Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Recently, Chris wrote Matt Damon’s narration script for the documentary Running the Sahara, which was screened at the 2007 Toronto Film Festival, and premiered on Showtime in January 2009.
In other works, Chris served as editorial consultant for Don’t Block the Blessings: Revelations of a Lifetime, the New York Times bestseller and NAACP Image Award-winning memoir by Patti LaBelle with Laura B. Randolph (Riverhead/Putnam, 1996). He also has written fiction, including the novel Special Interest, a Washington-based suspense thriller (Third World Press, October 2001; One World/Ballantine, December 2003), and the short story “Double Dealing,” published in Shades of Black: Crime and Mystery Stories by African-Americans, edited by Eleanor Taylor Bland (Berkley Prime Crime, February 2004).
Additionally, Chris has served as vice president and associate counsel of Johnson Publishing Company, where his responsibilities included start-up and U.S. management oversight of Ebony South Africa magazine. He also has worked as a promotional writer and as a speechwriter for Washington, D.C. politicians, including former U.S. Representative Harold Washington and former Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Chairman Clarence Thomas, and as Press Secretary for former U.S. Representative Cardiss Collins.
At the University of Illinois, Chris teaches African American Studies courses on hate crimes and on race and the press (with a special examination of Emmett Till coverage). In Journalism, he also teaches magazine writing, with an emphasis on literary techniques (theme, character, voice, conflict, resolution). Chris has done numerous television, radio and print interviews, and has delivered a number of major speeches and presentations on the significance of Mamie Till-Mobley’s contribution to the modern civil rights movement. He has lectured on the historical significance of the Black press, and in February 2007, conducted a three-part lecture series, “Black Media in Chicago,” at the Chicago History Museum. Other lecture and speech topics include the role of the press in contemporary society with an emphasis on media framing and representation of marginalized groups, stereotypes and coverage of the effects of race, power and privilege in America.

Entries by Chris Benson

Garner Chokehold Grand Jury Only the Latest Case of Justice Turning a Blind Eye to People of Color

(2) Comments | Posted December 11, 2014 | 11:56 AM

There is a persistent image tied to last week's shocking grand jury decision coming out of Staten Island. With release of that panel's determination that that there is no probable cause to indict NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo in last summer's chokehold death of Eric Garner, the public disbelief has been...

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Moving Beyond Digital Hate at the University of Illinois; (Re)Starting a Conversation on Racist and Sexist Chat

(0) Comments | Posted February 24, 2014 | 12:39 PM

It was only the beginning. But in listening to the concerns and thoughtful analysis provided by students at the Urbana campus of the University of Illinois recently, it was clear that the start of this conversation on racist and sexist hate speech was long overdue. Or, more accurately,...

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Golden Globe, Critics' Choice Wins for 12 Years a Slave Suggest New Freedom for Authentic Black Storytelling

(3) Comments | Posted January 22, 2014 | 1:24 PM

And the award goes to...

With the expected Best Picture Oscar nomination for 12 Years a Slave crowning a week that started with a Golden Globe for Best Drama, a week that included a Critics' Choice Best Picture Award for the film, the street buzz now is about whether...

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Looking Back on the Year of JFK and MLK, and On to Another Year of Exhaustive Storytelling

(0) Comments | Posted January 8, 2014 | 4:45 PM

It has become a ritual -- an annual imperative -- for my friend David Barr and me. At some point leading up to the end of December, or shortly after the beginning of January, we raise our glasses and drink a toast (or, four, maybe).

"To exhaustion."

The whole...

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Trayvon's Cry For Help and a Grieving Mother's Hope For Justice

(57) Comments | Posted July 12, 2013 | 12:39 PM

More than any other issue, a single plea seemed to dominate the final week of testimony in the George Zimmerman murder trial. It was that faint cry for help. The now infamous 9-1-1 call the night of February 26, 2012, just seconds before the sound of a gunshot -- the...

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Documentary On Separation of Church and State Shows How the Right Has It Wrong

(30) Comments | Posted March 15, 2012 | 1:29 PM

GOP Presidential candidate Rick Santorum once again is pandering to conservative evangelicals by resurrecting his stomach churning position at a recent banquet in Alabama, where he renewed his criticism of John F. Kennedy's belief in an America "where separation of church and state is absolute."

The problem is that...

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Game Change: Following Obama's Strong Moves, Republicans Need to Play by New Rules

(1) Comments | Posted June 2, 2011 | 12:44 PM

As Republicans continue to play musical chairs with their presidential preferences, they seem to be missing a beat. Clearly, the Obama administration's double tap takedown of Osama bin Laden was as much a surprise to the GOP as it was to al Qaeda. In that heart-stopping moment, the...

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Separation of Church and State: PBS Airs Documentary of a Mother's Story

(6) Comments | Posted May 11, 2011 | 12:56 PM

Too often we get so caught up in the pop themes that dominate our public affairs discourse -- the who's-on-first, pros-and-cons, winners-and-losers of it all -- that we blur the focus on the human factor. The people. People who are affected by the outcome. People with the courage to affect...

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Media Should Call Trump on Race-Based 'Birther' Campaign

(51) Comments | Posted April 25, 2011 | 6:31 PM

What has become clear during Donald Trump's media-blitz-of-a-non-campaign-campaign is that too many mainstream journalists are missing the story. The story and the opportunity. The story about what the "birther" issue really is all about, and the opportunity to live up to media responsibility in helping people make enlightened decisions...

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King's First Chicago Speech: A Message of Hope That Still Resonates and Challenges

(0) Comments | Posted January 17, 2011 | 11:14 PM

"One man come in the name of love; one man come and go." --U2

Whenever people come together in Chicago to commemorate the birth and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as they did today, there invariably is the reflection on Dr. King's Chicago campaign in 1966--when he hit...

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From a Moment of Silence to a Moment of Engagement: Common Sense in Responding to the Tragedy in Tucson

(0) Comments | Posted January 10, 2011 | 5:07 PM

The following is an open letter to students enrolled in my Hate Crimes course during the fall semester, 2010.

10 January 2011

Dear Students:

Thank you for the notes and comments I have received since our final class meeting last semester. Interestingly, among the many good wishes and kind words...

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'Beckapalooza' Tramples Emmett Till Anniversary

(11) Comments | Posted August 27, 2010 | 9:33 AM

In the clash of commentary on Glenn Beck's decision to stage his "Restoring Honor" rally at the Lincoln Memorial, one critical voice has been missed. The distant voice of Mamie Till-Mobley.
If she still were alive, Mother Mobley would remind us with a keen sense of irony--as well...

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