Ethel L. Payne: Trailblazing Journalist

This month the Anacostia Community Museum is paying tribute to the Women’s History Movement by highlighting its collections that tell stories of women’s lives and contributions to our society.

Payne

Ethel Payne greeting President Lyndon B. Johnson, undated. Ethel Payne Papers,
Anacostia Community Archives, Smithsonian Institution. Gift of Avis R. Johnson.

 

 

In 2002, the U. S. Postal Service honored four women reporters for their contribution to American journalism by issuing commemorative postage stamps. Among the honorees was Ethel L. Payne (1911 – 1991) , who earned the title “first Lady of the black press” due to her coverage of the White House through seven presidents and the civil rights movement. The award-winning journalist was known to ask difficult questions, especially pertaining to segregation, and combining advocacy with journalism. A trailblazer, Payne became the first African American woman commentator employed by a national network when CBS hired her for their television series “Spectrum.” The journalist was also the first black female to focus on international news and one of the first female White House correspondents of African descent. President Lyndon B. Johnson (1908 – 1973) invited her to witness his signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and she traveled with Secretary of State Henry Kissinger during his tour of Africa in 1970s.

Ethel Payne

Ethel Payne received this Leadership for Freedom Award in 1974 from the Women’s Scholarship Association of Roosevelt University for her human rights work. Ethel Payne Papers, Anacostia Community Museum Archives, Smithsonian Institution. Gift of Avis R. Johnson.

A collection of Ethel Payne materials containing photographs, awards, passports, and artifacts were donated to the Anacostia Community Museum in 1991. You can view the collection here. The bulk of Payne’s personal papers were donated to Howard University before the reporter’s death. To learn more about Ethel Payne and view a display of her papers, join us on Sunday, March 29th from 2:00 to 4:00 for an author talk and book signing with James McGrath Morris.  Mr. Morris will discuss his publication Eye on the Struggle, which focuses on the achievements and challenges of this pioneering woman!

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