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.