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'Trailblazer' Dorothy Butler Gilliam's 'Fight To Make The Media Look More Like America'

Dorothy Butler Gilliam. (Courtesy Center Street)
Dorothy Butler Gilliam. (Courtesy Center Street)

With Meghna Chakrabarti

Dorothy Butler Gilliam was the first black woman reporter at the Washington Post. She shares her story and her quest to make the media look more like America.


Dorothy Bulter Gilliam, author of “ Trailblazer: A Pioneering Journalist’s Fight to Make the Media Look More Like America” ( @centerstreet ). First black, female reporter at the Washington Post, and former president of the National Association of Black Journalists. (@DorothyBGilliam)

From The Reading List

Excerpt from “Trailblazer” by Dorothy Butler Gilliam

Excerpted from TRAILBLAZER by Dorothy Butler Gilliam. Copyright © 2019 Dorothy Butler Gilliam by Center Street. Reprinted with permission of Hachette Book Group, New York, NY. All rights reserved.

NBC News: “ Opinion: The critical role of the black press in the civil rights movement has not received the attention it deserves” — “As a journalist for the black press and later for The Washington Post, I covered two seminal events of the civil rights movement that helped prompt passage of the public accommodations and the voting rights acts — the most important pieces of legislation of the 20th century.

“The critical role of the black press in the civil rights movement has not received the attention it deserves. Black journalists put themselves on the front lines of these stories before and during the civil rights movement, doing the work and putting their bodies in danger so the sacrifices of activists would not go unnoticed. The nation needs to acknowledge and learn from the experiences of those who witnessed those early civil rights protests if we are to actualize Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream.

“I grew up in the segregated American South, where I faced humiliation and rejection with ‘white’ and ‘colored’ water fountains and toilets. But I also was in a rare situation — both of my parents graduated from black institutions of higher education. Many young black people like me learned education would be the key to help us overcome racial discrimination. Our families, churches, teachers and communities worked hard to prepare us to succeed in spite of the harshness of segregation.”

New York Daily News: “ How trailblazer Dorothy Butler Gilliam changed the face of journalism” — “It’s not easy being first.

“When Dorothy Butler Gilliam started at the Washington Post in 1961, there were all of two other black reporters on staff, both men. Female hires were routinely routed to the features section full of society news and recipes.

“Slowly, stubbornly, Butler set about changing that.

“Her memoir, ‘Trailblazer: A Pioneering Journalist’s Fight to Make the Media Look More Like America’ tells how she did it, covering hard news, the justice system and the battle for integration, and how she also helped train a new generation of minority journalists.

“It’s an inspiring tale, and sometimes a sad one, as she recounts endless battles against sexism and racism. Throughout her book, as was her wont, Gilliam gets the facts straight and reports them, no matter where they lead.”

Madeleine D’Angelo and Allison Pohle produced this show for broadcast.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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