The first black woman reporter to work at the Washington Post newspaper, a pioneer who mentored many journalists in the Bay Area and the country, discussed her six-decade career March 30 at Oakland’s Kapor Center.
Dorothy Butler Gilliam talked about her new book, “Trailblazer: A Pioneering Journalist’s Fight to Make the Media Look More Like America,” with Martin Reynolds, former Oakland Tribune editor and co-executive director of the Oakland-based Maynard Institute.
“When I first entered the Washington Post newsroom in 1961, I dived into a sea of white men with two extra weights they didn’t have to carry — race and gender,” Gilliam said.
“But I persevered. I had to succeed. I knew if I didn’t, it would be an excuse not to hire other black women,” the journalist said.
When the reporter rushed to cover breaking news on short deadlines, with time of the essence, cabs wouldn’t stop for her because she was black. Colleagues wouldn’t speak to her on the street. She had to sleep in a black funeral home when covering civil rights issues in the South because hotels excluded African Americans.
But she persisted, becoming a successful reporter, columnist and editor at the Post, working there 33 years.
Though she still lives in Washington, D.C., Gilliam’s Bay Area connections are strong. She co-founded the Maynard Institute, which is named for former Oakland Tribune editor Bob Maynard, another co-founder.
The institute was founded in the 1970s to educate people of color so they could get jobs in the media. Before being renamed the Maynard Institute, it used the name Institute for Journalism Education.
“We (reporters) implored our editors to hire journalists of color, but they would say, ‘We can’t find anyone qualified,'” Gilliam said. “So we came together and founded the institute,” which began at UC Berkeley.
Former Oakland Tribune reporter and columnist Tammerlin Drummond was a student at the institute. “Dorothy was one of my first journalism teachers,” said Drummond, who attended the 30 event.
Barbara Rodgers, a former reporter at KPIX-TV, a CBS affiliate in San Francisco, was also at the event.
“We’ve all known (Gilliam) for many moons,” Rodgers said.
Rodgers’ first job was in 1972 at a New York TV station. She was the first black female to work there, she said.
“The guys did not particularly like that the newsroom culture was going to change. They couldn’t talk among themselves and say ‘Check out that woman’s boobs’ any more,” Rodgers said.
She added, “They finally mellowed out. But they weren’t very helpful at first.”
Story originally published by Bay City News.