Reading and Conversation with Dorothy Butler Gilliam
Join Dorothy Butler Gilliam for a reading from her new book, Trailblazer, which explores her now 50-year career in journalism and activism.
In 1961, Gilliam became The Washington Post’s first black female reporter, launching a 50-year career as an award-winning journalist, editor, columnist and book author, as well as a feminist, civil rights activist and educational mentor to young minority journalists. In her powerful biographical book, Gilliam artfully and poignantly pulls readers into the vortex of a riveting American time warp – when civil rights were more deadly than civil, when black reporters were an anomaly in mainstream media – and when far too many black activists were becoming martyrs for civil rights and social justice.
“Journalism took me places that I would not normally go,” Gilliam said. One of her first Post iconic assignments took her to Mississippi in 1962 to cover James Meredith’s integration of Ole Miss. “At that time, Mississippi was known in American black communities as ‘the Land of Black Death,’” she said. “It was not a hospitable place for African Americans.” Nonetheless, Gilliam hired a freelance photojournalist and ventured to Ole Miss to report black Americans’ reactions to that historic event. Restaurants, hotels and public restrooms were still segregated in those days. Gilliam dodged angry white mobs and the deadly reach of the local KKK, by finding safe haven and nourishment with local black families. And at night, she literally “slept with the dead,” catching a few uneasy hours of rest at a black funeral parlor – later filing her Post story headlined: “Mississippi Mood: Hope and Fear.”
Gilliam’s book also chronicles the hurt and anger she felt at being shunned by her fellow Post reporters during the 1960s, of having to dine alone and find creative ways to conduct her interviews, and make it back to the Post to write her stories and meet deadlines in a city where cab drivers purposefully would not stop for, or transport African American wayfarers. “Dorothy’s book should be required reading for all who value the First Amendment, in particular, current and aspiring journalists, especially female minorities,” said her publicist, Julia Wilson, CEO of Wilson Global