Dorothy Butler Gilliam: "I am not a maid. I am a journalist."

Dorothy Butler Gilliam started her career as a black woman journalist at a major US newspaper in a time of largely segregated society.

Dorothy Butler Gilliam: "I am not a maid. I am a journalist."

Dorothy Butler Gilliam started her career as a black woman journalist at a major US newspaper in a time of largely segregated society. Farhana Haider, BBC asked her about her experiences as a black woman living in a world dominated by white men.

Dorothy Butler Gilliam was told by the doorman that she could not enter through the front door when she arrived at the 100th birthday celebration of a Washington woman. He explained that the maid's entrance was at the back.

She replied, "I am not maid, I'm a reporter for Washington Post."

Dorothy was the first African American woman who reported for the newspaper. She began her career at the newspaper in 1961. Over the next 30 years, she was an editor and columnist, witnessing major changes in American society and the media.

Dorothy was a student in her first year and accidentally got into journalism. She worked as a secretary for the Louisville Defender, a weekly newspaper of black people. She was asked to help out when the society editor became ill. She was suddenly sent to Kentucky's largest city to report on the black middle classes.

She says, "It was an eye-opening event and I saw that journalism is a profession that, provided I learned to do it properly, it could open up new worlds for me."

She worked for Ebony and Jet, but she wanted to be a daily news reporter after college. At the age of 24, she was accepted into Columbia University's journalism program. She was the only African American student in the course.

It was a difficult task to be the first African American female reporter for the newspaper.

She was not able to get a taxi cab to stop. "I would stand in front of the Post, and they would slow down. Then they would see that I was dark brown and hit the accelerator."

Many people wouldn't believe that she was a reporter. Her reporting also faced some racism in the newsroom.

"There were some older style editors still working at the Post when my time was here. Dorothy says that one of them said, "We don't cover murders in black because they are cheap deaths." She wanted to run and scream. She decided to keep working and not let it stop her from screaming.

Despite having panic attacks while driving to work, she would always talk to Jet magazine colleagues for help. She says that her Christian faith was a great help, especially when she felt isolated from her white colleagues.

"Inside the newsroom, some of them would greet me by saying hello, nod, or even speaking to me. But if they saw me outside they would pretend that they didn't know me. It was humiliating. It was almost as if they didn't want other white people to know they had known a black person.

Dorothy did not discuss her challenges with her editors. She was worried that any complaint could be used to excuse them from hiring black journalists.

Dorothy, a black woman living in 1960s America, had difficulty even getting lunch.

Dorothy grew up in a state that was strictly segregated by race laws between black and white. Black people were unable to vote, had limited educational and employment opportunities, and denied basic human rights.

Washington restaurants weren't all segregated. The closest Washington Post offices didn't serve African Americans. Dorothy would walk as long as it took to reach a cafeteria that was comfortable for her.

She was acutely aware of her ability to tell black stories in an innovative way. She was aware that the negative images she saw of African Americans in mainstream media were due to black voices not being heard.

She says, "I wasn't going to just cover negative stories about black people. I wanted to cover all aspects of black life."

Dorothy covered important civil rights events. She was there for the 1962 integration of the University of Mississippi. There were protests and riots following the enrollment of James Meredith (a young African American student) at the university.

Dorothy was given the task of speaking to black communities in order to gauge their reactions to integration of the bastion of white supremacy. They shared their hopes for the future, based on James Meredith's work, and their belief that more integration would happen. She was inspired by brave, hopeful men and women and this is what she wrote.

She noticed that white journalists painted a fearful and scared picture of black people when she was reading their stories. "And that's not the picture I saw at all."

She was prohibited from staying in white hotels while she was in Mississippi and she ended up staying at an African funeral home. She says, "I slept among the dead." "You must do what is necessary to get the story."

After having her third child, Dorothy quit the Washington Post in mid-1960s. After her third child, Dorothy tried to work part-time, but was told that she was decreasing morale. She was then allowed to work for four days per week for a brief time. In 1972, she was hired again as Style Section assistant editor. She loved the job.

"It was great to be able bring more black culture into Style. It was because, once again, it was a time in which white people didn't know anything about black culture. Only the relatively wealthy could speak to their maids and janitors. It was all about bringing that black culture into mainstream society.

Dorothy also had the ability to hire people and hire journalists who could write about black experiences. In 1979, she was promoted to columnist. She focused on education, politics, and race. This position lasted for 19 years. In 2003, she retired from the Post.

Dorothy was a champion of diversity throughout her 50-year journalism career. She was the president of the National Association of Black Journalists. She also co-founded the Robert C Maynard Institute for Journalism Education, where thousands of journalists from racial minority backgrounds have been trained.

She says, "You can't tell the whole story or the truth of the story if you only tell it through one group of eyes."

"And if there aren't people who see the world from different perspectives, then you don't have a complete picture of what's happening."

Dorothy Butler Gilliam is author of Trailblazer: A Pioneering Journalist's Struggle to Make the Media Look More Like America

In 1968, British TV had its first black female reporter. However, viewers were strongly against her appointment and she was fired in less than one year. Half a century later, a British Journalism Award is named in her honor. How does Barbara Blake Hannah feel about how the country treated her in the past?

British TV's black reporter in the swinging 60s

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