News & Insights

Their history, their words: Reflections of three female journalists

In recognition of Women’s History Month, SRB’s March Blog is spotlighting three female journalists whose careers demonstrate personal courage and conviction in the service of equality. 
Lucile Bluford (b. 1911-d. 2003)

Sometimes called “The Matriarch” or “the Conscience of Kansas City,” Bluford was editor and publisher of Kansas City’s Black newspaper, the Kansas City Call. Ms. Bluford was editor of the weekly newspaper before and during the height of the Civil Rights era in the late 1950s and 1960s, well into the 1970s and 1980s during the Women’s Rights movement. She was a powerful advocate for the advancement of Black people and women. 

Starting at the newspaper in 1932 as a reporter, she stayed there for 69 years, assuming the top editor’s job and eventually becoming publisher.  Over a half century, Bluford wrote dozens of passionate editorials that took bold stands on the Civil Rights movement, store lunchroom boycotts and mourning Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination and the civil unrest that followed. She also covered crime, education, protest, civil and women’s rights news stories.

When Rev. Jesse Jackson ran for president in 1984, he was two hours late for a campaign stop at Kansas City’s Municipal Auditorium. More than 3,000 people waited “Why are you so late?” Bluford scolded Jackson publicly. And then she chided him for not letting the Kansas City Call know earlier that he was coming.

“She just lit Jesse Jackson up,” remembered the late Donna Stewart, a protégé of Bluford who later became publisher of The Call after Bluford’s death.

Bluford graduated from the University of Kansas School of Journalism in 1932 with honors. She was accepted to the University of Missouri School of Journalism but was refused entry after administrators discovered she was Black. She filed several lawsuits that went to the state’s Supreme Court. The University eventually shut down the school citing low attendance because of World War II. She never attended. 

Pam Johnson, assistant city editor of the Kansas City Star in the 1970s and 1980s, and later the editor at the Arizona Republic and Phoenix Gazette newspapers, wrote about Bluford’s professional accomplishments in a 2004 article for Poynter, a nonprofit dedicated to journalism education. Bluford was “honest, forthright and feisty,” recalled Johnson, who met Bluford a few times before her death. 

Bluford could be just as tough on the Black community when she thought it was out of line as she was on the white community. But those qualities gave her credibility and earned trust with everyone, Johnson said. 

“Her determination inspired me. She demonstrated that we all have the potential to leave a situation better than we found it. Certainly, without Miss Bluford and The Call, it is difficult to imagine how black and white Kansas City could have grown past the deep divide that once existed,” Johnson wrote.

The University of Missouri, which had refused to admit her to its master's program, gave her an honorary doctorate in 1989 and named a residence hall after her in 2018. Missouri recognizes July 1, her birthday, as Lucile Bluford Day for her contributions to journalism and the state.

Charlayne Hunter-Gault (b. 1942)

Newspapers were a fixture in Hunter-Gault's home when she was a child – her mother subscribed to three daily papers – but it was a comic strip in one of them that inspired her career. The strip’s name, Brenda Starr, Reporter. It was a serial about a glamourous red-haired female reporter and her adventures. Brenda Starr was white, but Hunter-Gault fell in love with the character. When she told her mother that’s what she wanted to be, her mother said, “‘If that’s what you want to do,’ and that so inspired me,” Hunter-Gault recalled in an interview on C-Span's Book TV program in 2022.

Hunter-Gault went on to have her own adventures along with a successful career as a path-blazing, award-winning Black female journalist and author. She was the first African-American staff reporter at The New Yorker and went on to establish The New York Times’ first Harlem bureau. From 1978 until 1997, she worked for PBS MacNeil/Lehrer Report and the PBS NewsHour. She was later NPR’s chief correspondent in Africa and after that, CNN’s bureau chief and correspondent in Johannesburg, South Africa.

But she may be most famous for a distinction she earned before her career started. 

In 1961, Hunter-Gault became the first Black woman to enroll in the University of Georgia and one of the first two African Americans (the other was a young man named Hamilton Holmes) to integrate the university. 

Hunter-Gault talked about that experience in the 2022 C-Span interview.

She said she began thinking of herself as a queen in childhood – ever since a winning school competition whose prize was a tiara – and that self-image gave her confidence the day the 19-year-old Hunter-Gault arrived on UGA’s campus under court order to jeers and racist insults from white students.

“That education was part of the armor that I have worn all my life that came from that community that they were trying to make feel separate and unequal. And they failed. They failed.”

“I never want to forget the other people who made that possible,” Hunter-Gault said, observing that those who came before her were also strengthened by those who preceded them.

“No matter how much opposition there is, we have to keep on keeping on,” Hunter-Gault said.
Marie Anderson (b. 1916 – d. 1996)

Women’s pages may sound like an anachronism now, but in the 1960s and for decades before, they were standard features of most newspapers, the home for light and fluffy reading about society news, club news, fashion, food, or whatever top-ranking editors – mostly men then – regarded as women’s news. 

After Marie Anderson was promoted to women’s editor at the Miami Herald in 1959, the newspaper became one of the first to transform that space into an award-winning page for more informative stories about health, careers, social and women’s involvement in politics and other topics that interested women. Here’s how Anderson described her approach to her work as women’s editor in remarks toward the end of her journalism career.

“I’m not sure there is a place for so-called society news. People news, yes. What society does to benefit society, yes. But society for society’s self-gratification, no,” she said, according to an article about her in The State Historical Society of Missouri’s National Women & Media Collection.

Kimberly Harper, the author of that article, also wrote that Anderson revealed what gratified her most.

“My satisfaction,” Anderson said, “comes when a completely unknown person writes, “Thank you for your women’s section. You don’t know how it has changed my life for the better.’

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