March is Women’s History Month and today, we recognize a woman who helped break barriers in journalism.
Dorothy Butler Gilliam was the first African American female reporter at the Washington Post and her stories helped give a voice to communities that were often overlooked.
She’s a journalism pioneer.
“As a first, I had to open the doors for some others who would be following.”
In 1961, Dorothy Butler Gilliam became the first black female reporter for the Washington Post.
At the time, the paper was male-dominated and, like the nation as a whole, mostly segregated.
“I was born in Tennessee and grew up in Louisville, Kentucky, so I was very familiar with the harshness of segregation.”
Gilliam recalled facing unexpected challenges while trying to do her job.
As the 1960’s Civil Rights Movement and Women’s Movement made headlines, Gilliam’s articles were required reading. She covered historic events including the integration of Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, and the University of Mississippi.
“Few white reporters at that time were going into the black community to say, ‘What do you all think? What are your opinions of what’s happening at Ole Miss?'”
In her memoir called, ‘Trailblazer,’ Gilliam wrote of her experiences including her efforts to promote diversity in the newsroom.
“The way journalism works, it’s important that we have all people represented around the table.”
In addition to her work in journalism, Gilliam also co-founded the Maynard Institute in Washington, DC. The organization works to improve media coverage by making sure newsrooms reflect the communities they serve.
Gilliam says being the first wasn’t easy, but after nearly 60 years in the news business, she says she is proud to see more females and journalists of color taking on tough assignments, from the City Hall to the White House press room.
“Reporters who are being singled out and denigrated; I want to let them know their effort is appreciated.”