William Raspberry: Maverick of The Black Press

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Clarence Page, the Pulitzer winner from The Chicago Tribune, called Raspberry and Rowan trailblazers, “not only as journalists but as voices of courage against the narrow ideologies of the left or right.”





[TRIBUTE]


As
a twenty-something working as an editor on Ida Lewis’ stand-out Black
newsmagazine, Encore, I became aware of the achievements of two veteran
journalists, William Raspberry and Carl Rowan; both of them would serve
as role models for my later years at The Daily News.

A Pulitzer
Prize-winning columnist for The Washington Post, Raspberry died July 17
in his home at 76 of cancer. He wrote a column for The Post for four
decades before his retirement in 2005, with 200 mainstream newspapers
carrying his observations in syndication.

While Rowan seemed to be the
ultimate insider with significant Beltway connections, Raspberry bucked
the liberal stereotype, refusing to go along with the popular commentary
of the times.

Raspberry was born in Okolona, Mississippi in 1935.
One of five children, he always spoke of growing up in segregated South
as coming to maturity “in apartheid.” After attending Indiana Central
College, he worked at The Indianapolis Recorder, a mainstay of the Black
press. He worked as a public information officer with the Army after
graduating. In 1962, he was hired as Teletype operator but quickly rose
through the ranks to serve as one of the first reporters at The Post.

I
was impressed by his columns about social and political concerns
affecting African Americans, including education, poverty, voting
rights, gun control, crime, and Black youth. Civil rights leader Vernon
Jordan called him “a truth-teller.” Some of the memorable pieces of
Raspberry were the coverage of the 1965 LA riots, the Clarence Thomas
Justice hearings, the O.J. Simpson trial, the shabby state of Black
education and the rampant killings of people in the inner city.

Here are some of the insightful things Raspberry wrote:  “The civil rights leadership, for all its emphasis on desegregating schools, has very little to improve them.” (1982)

“How
different are parts of Somalia from parts of the United States? And how
much more like Somalia would the United States become if the gun rights
people have their way?”  (1993)

“What is happening to the Black
family in America is the sociological equivalent of global warming:
easier to document than to reverse, inconsistent in its near-term effect
– and disastrous in the long run.” (2005)

In 1974, Time Magazine
stated Raspberry was “the most respected Black voice" on any White U.S.
newspaper. He went after the leading civil rights organizations for
ignoring practical, logical remedies for the social problems of our community. He won the Pulitzer Prize in 1994 and earned the National
Association of Black Journalists with its Lifetime Achievement Award.

I
remember a conversation with the late writer and Columbia Professor Phyl Garland, over a meal and jazz,
where she lauded the press achievements of William Raspberry. She
believed young Black journalists could learn a lot from his example.
Clarence Page, the Pulitzer winner from The Chicago Tribune, called
Raspberry and Rowan trailblazers, “not only as journalists but as voices
of courage against the narrow ideologies of the left or right.”

While
I was a young reporter, I imagined I could meet the standards of
William Raspberry as a man and a journalist. It was a goal worth
having.


"Speaking Truth To Empower."



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