When Dorothy Butler Gilliam began her remarkable 50-year career as The Washington Post’s first black female journalist in 1961, America’s major daily newspapers still reflected the stark reality of the Jim Crow era. They were mostly segregated, with reporters and editors within mainstream media newsrooms being white and male. It wasn’t until 1954, with the Brown vs Board of Education decision, that most reporters were even moved to cover the so-called “race beat” in any meaningful way.
Gilliam, who had grown up in the South, observed the influential role the media played during the ‘60s in reporting about the civil rights movement. She also knew how journalists could contribute to racial discord by presenting negative portrayals of blacks. She determined it was time to tell black stories the way she felt they needed to be told. Despite the challenges racism and sexism together presented, she became an award-winning columnist at the Post. She went on to become an advocate and activist, and president of the National Association of Black Journalists.
Drawing on her memoir, Trailblazer, Gilliam talks to veteran reporter and freelance journalist Kristin Jensen about her determination to “make the media look more like America.”
Trailblazer (Center Street) is available for sale and signing.