A Woman to Know: Ethel Payne

I, as a part of that press, can’t afford the luxury of being unbiased . . . when it come to issues that really affect my people, and I plead guilty, because I think that I am an instrument of change. — Ethel Payne

(image via Library of Congress)


Hey! This post is written by Kelcey Caulder, an intern with Active Voice, the Student Press Law Center campaign dedicated to empowering female student journalists who are disproportionately censored in schools. It's a super awesome thing see more on Tumblr and at theactivevoice.org.

Known as the “First Lady of the Black Press,” she may be the most influential journalist and activist most people have never heard of.

Ethel Payne began her writing career at The Chicago Defender, a storied black newspaper that specialized in telling stories left uncovered by the mainstream white-owned press. She covered presidencies, was the first black reporter to cover the Vietnam, traveled often to Africa and was on the front lines of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the desegregation efforts at Little Rock Central High School and the 1963 March on Washington. When CBS hired her in 1972, Payne became the first black female radio and television commentator at a national news organization. She interviewed Martin Luther King Jr., Senator John F. Kennedy, Gen. William C. Westmoreland, President Eisenhower and Nelson Mandela, all the while asking questions that others were afraid to ask. As she said of her time covering the 1955 bus boycott: "It was like a historic battle being drawn out on the field, but you were part of it."

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