Delores McCain was never shy about getting involved.
It came naturally to her, especially in her late teens and early 20s as one of many young African Americans who joined the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. In her 60s, she continued that activism, writing for the Austin Weekly News, a community newspaper covering Chicago’s West Side, the city’s most populous neighborhood.
Ms. McCain died on Saturday, Sept. 11, 2010 from complications caused by pneumonia, which followed a two-year battle with leukemia. She was 68 years old.
A resident of Forest Park, she had been hospitalized since late July. But right up until that time, she had been doing what she did better than anyone: covering the West Side for Austin Weekly News, a sibling publication of Wednesday Journal of Oak Park.
Her brother, Dennis, said his sister loved working for the paper. Though she didn’t have a journalism background, she became, “the face of the paper,” said Dan Haley, the paper’s publisher. It was her passion – and feistiness – that she was known for. Haley recalled receiving a phone call from McCain, who was critical of his paper’s coverage of the black community. He asked her to help improve it. She always tried to showcase the community in the most positive light, those who know her said.
Ms. McCain became a contributing writer with Austin Weekly News in 2000. She would eventually become the paper’s go-to reporter. Her “community” didn’t stop at the borders of Austin, however. She sometimes traveled to the South Side to cover issues of interest to the entire black community. That included landing an interview with Michelle Obama. She was also one of the first to cover a relatively unknown U.S. Senate candidate named Barack Obama in 2003 when he made an appearance in Austin.
In 2006 and early 2007, Ms. McCain was one of the first reporters in the north to cover the Jena Six, a group of black male high school teens in Jena, La., convicted of beating up a white student. Readers of the paper often remarked that they had not heard of the Jena Six until reading it in the Austin Weekly News. She also covered the shooting and trial of Howard Morgan – a retired Chicago cop who survived some two dozen bullets from the guns of Chicago Police following a traffic stop in 2005. And she was dogged in covering West Side ministers’ efforts to bring justice to torture victims of John Burge, a former Chicago Police Commander.
In April of this year, she received an honorable mention at the Illinois Press Association’s annual awards for her coverage in Austin Weekly News.
Former editor Ken Trainor recalled, “From 2002 to 2005, we could not have put out that paper without her.”
‘Mother’ and ‘other wife’
Terry Dean, editor of Austin Weekly News, called Delores the “mom” of both the paper and its slew of freelancers. She created one the paper’s signature features: Streetbeat, where she and retired staff photographer Frank Pinc would travel to Austin events and ask people to respond to a topical question. Pinc, who retired in 2009 but continued doing Streetbeat, referred to Delores as “my other wife.”
Austin residents who knew Delores recalled how she often worked behind the scenes to help people or to galvanize the community to take action. She was often the first phone call community organizations made when they needed attention raised on an issue.
Delores McCain was born in Milwaukee, Wis. on June 8, 1942 to parents Douglas and Ruth McCain. In 1960, she graduated from North Division High School and soon after became active in the Civil Rights Movement in Milwaukee, working under the tutelage of Rev. James Groppi, a Roman Catholic priest and noted civil rights activist.
After moving to Chicago in 1963, she became involved with Operation Breadbasket, a national program of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference; the Chicago branch was headed by Jesse Jackson. She was also an original member of the Breadbasket’s choir. She later became active in Jackson’s Operation PUSH and was a member of Black People Against Police Brutality.
Along with her activism, she worked at Allied Radio – now Radio Shack – in the late 1960s. From 1968 to 1974, she worked as an office manager for the W.L. Lillard Detective Agency. In 1976, she landed a job at Kraft Foods. She retired in 1996. While writing for Austin Weekly News, she also worked as a receptionist at Wednesday Journal, Inc.
She is missed by many in Forest Park and Oak Park. In Austin, she is irreplaceable.
Delores McCain is survived by her brother, Dennis, and his wife, Cassie; her stepsisters, Rita Cloyd, Evelyn Cloyd Hall, Audrey Booker (St. Clair) and Rochelle Sesley (James); one grandniece and many other family members.
She will be buried in Milwaukee.