When Billy Jennings was a young news photographer at WMAQ-TV, it hit him. He’d landed a big job in a big market with big on-air talent. He started to pace the newsroom floor.
Jennings remembers telling Jim Stricklin, a cameraman who’d covered everything from Chicago street gangs to prison riots, he was nervous.
“Let me tell you something,” he said Mr. Stricklin told him. “There are times you’re going to go out without a reporter — but they are never going to go out without you. You’re the tip of the spear. If you didn’t shoot it, it didn’t happen. Tell that story with your pictures, and you’ll be fine.”
After that, Jennings, who’s now WMAQ’s chief photographer, said, “I just kind of settled down.”
Mr. Stricklin, who was one of WMAQ’s first Black news photographers and had a 40-year career, died July 26 at Kindred Chicago Lakeshore Hospital of COVID-19, according to Marita Joyce Stricklin, his wife of 57 years. The Hyde Park resident, who was 88, became ill despite having been vaccinated against the coronavirus, she said.
“He had been just going along and enjoying retirement,” she said. “It’s so transmissible.”
WMAQ staffers said they’ll miss his humor and gift for getting good pictures. They said that, when news happened, it seemed he always had his camera rolling and ready to shoot.
They also said they’ll miss his support during labor disputes. Mr. Stricklin was a steward for the National Association of Broadcast Employees and Technicians, according to retired WMAQ anchor Art Norman.
“He represented the little guy,” Norman said. “He would fight for maternity leave, things like that. He would fight like crazy. He just looked out for everyone.”
“He wasn’t cowed or impressed by any star or any politician,” former WMAQ anchor Joan Esposito said.
If a fledgling reporter didn’t know the right questions, “He leaned over and told you what to ask,” WMAQ-TV political reporter Mary Ann Ahern said.
Mr. Stricklin grew up in Bronzeville. After graduating from DuSable High School, he served in the Army, assigned to work as a photographer in Paris, according to his wife.
He went on to get a design degree from the Illinois Institute of Technology but was “always aiming for filmmaking,” his wife said. He hung out at the South Side Community Art Center and met Gordon Parks, the first Black photographer for Life magazine and director of the film “Shaft.”
The Stricklins met at Jimmy’s Woodlawn Tap in Hyde Park. She was trying to look sophisticated by drinking Mogen David and ginger ale.
“It was really like pop,” she said. “He said, ‘I’m not going to order that. Nobody drinks that.’ ”
But they hit it off, and he called her the next day.
In 1964, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. hired Mr. Stricklin to shoot footage on the rise of Chicago street gangs.
“The Blackstone Rangers gang, the gangs, were beginning to surface on the South Side of Chicago, and the CBC needed visual records of the gang activity,” his wife said.
His work brought him to the attention of WMAQ, for which he was an Emmy Award-winner.
In 1968, he was hospitalized for two days after being beaten by police while covering protests at the Democratic National Convention, according to a federal task force report. He’d been filming a police beating of another photographer when an officer struck him in the mouth with a nightstick, Mr. Stricklin said at the time: “The next thing I know, I was being hit on the head, and I think on the back, and I was just forced down on the ground.”
“They were in the middle of tear gas and violence several times,” said Brett Snodgrass, a son of the late WMAQ reporter Dick Kay, Mr. Stricklin’s close friend and sailing buddy.
Mr. Stricklin once covered an uprising at Stateville Correctional Center with WMAQ reporter Peter Nolan.
“This one inmate, all of a sudden, out of the blue, starts screaming,” Nolan said. “The only guy rolling [with his camera] was Stricklin, and we got the best stuff out of there. He had a feeling for when things were going to happen.”
“If we heard a fire engine in the middle of the night,” Mr. Stricklin’s wife said, “Jim would get out of bed and say, ‘I’ve got to call NBC.’ ”
And during late election nights or long days waiting for a jury verdict, “He just was one of those guys who could make you laugh,” said Carol Marin, former WMAQ-TV political editor and a director of the DePaul University Center for Journalism Integrity & Excellence.
Mr. Stricklin also is survived by his son Nicholas Christophe Stricklin and two grandchildren.
Funeral arrangements are pending.