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Richard Durham Papers

Identifier: harsh-1998-02

Scope and Contents

The Richard Durham Collection is comprised mostly of manuscripts and primarily includes scripts written for the Destination Freedom and Bird of the Iron Feather series. Additional manuscript material includes scripts written for Democracy, U.S.A. as well as the page proofs for the autobiography of Muhammad Ali, The Greatest, published in 1977. The collection also contains clippings, correspondence, photographs and serials.


  • Creation: 1939-1999


Conditions Governing Access

Materials are open without restrictions

Conditions Governing Use

Please consult staff to determine ability to reuse materials from collection

Biographical / Historical

Richard Durham was born on September 6, 1917 in Raymond, Mississippi and moved with his family to Chicago when he was 7 years old. Durham attended Hyde Park High School and Northwestern University. While at Northwestern, Durham joined the Federal Writers Project of the Works Progress Administration and received training and experience as a radio scriptwriter. When this project ended, Durham joined the staff of the Chicago Defender. Durham’s first major experience with radio came between 1946 and 1948 when he wrote scripts for a series on Black achievement, Democracy U.S.A., which aired on WBBM, a CBS station. Durham created and wrote all the scripts for Here Comes Tomorrow, a Black soap opera that aired on WJJD. After, Destination Freedom, a dramatic radio series on WMAQ in Chicago, premiered on June 27, 1948, bringing the freedom struggles of African Americans to listening audiences for nearly two years. Durham’s prolific writing career would span four decades and would extend far beyond radio: he edited the official publication of the Nation of Islam, Muhammad Speaks, in the 1960s; created the television series Bird of the Iron Feather in the early 1970s; co-authored The Greatest, the 1977 autobiography of boxer Muhammad Ali; and wrote numerous speeches for Chicago’s first African American mayor, Harold Washington, in the 1980s. Richard Durham met Clarice Davis in the early 1940s while both were volunteering with the National Negro Congress. Clarice was born in Mobile, Alabama and moved to Chicago when she was eleven years old. She attended Wendell Phillips High School until it was temporarily closed because of a fire. She graduated from DuSable High School where she was the valedictorian of her class. The couple married in 1942. Richard and Clarice Durham have one son, Mark Durham.

Richard Durham died on April 27, 1984 while on a business trip in New York. Mayor Harold Washington delivered the eulogy at his memorial service and several famous Chicagoans including historian and businessman Dempsey Travis, entertainer and former Destination Freedom cast member Oscar Brown Jr. and Congressmen Charles Hayes and Gus Savage attended the service. In August 2007, Richard Durham was selected for induction into the National Radio Hall of Fame.


18 Linear Feet (18 linear feet) : in 19 boxes, includes 28 photographs, 92 compact discs and one VHS tape

Language of Materials



In the mid-twentieth century, journalist and writer Richard Durham created Destination Freedom, a series of radio shows dramatizing the Black experience in America. He went on to edit the Muhammad Speaks newspaper, create a television show in 1971 and assisted in the writing of Muhammad Ali’s autobiography, The Greatest. The collection contains transcripts and recordings of the radio plays, manuscripts, interviews, photographs and other audiovisual material.


The collection is arranged into 4 series: Manuscripts, Photographs and Audiovisual, Serials and Addendum

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Donation of Clarice Durham in June, November and December 1998. 91 CDs containing broadcast reproductions were donated by J. Fred MacDonald in March 2009.

Guide to the Richard Durham Papers
Mapping the Stacks Staff: Melissa Barton, Doron Galili, Moira Hinderer, Celeste Day Moore, Traci Parker, Christine Petersen, Marcia Walker, August 2007. Edited and ingested in ArchivesSpace by C. Fife Townsel, April 2022
August 2007
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English

Repository Details

Part of the Vivian G. Harsh Research Collection Repository

Woodson Regional Library
Chicago Public Library
9525 S. Halsted Street
Chicago IL 60628 United States
(312) 745-2080