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Tue, 11.24.1936

Dorothy Butler Gilliam, Journalist born

Dorothy Butler Gilliam

*Dorothy Butler Gilliam was born on this date in 1936.  She is a Black journalist, Professor, and author.

Dorothy Butler was born in Memphis, Tennessee, the eighth child of Adee Conklin Butler and Jessie Mae Norment Butler. When Butler was in her first year at Ursuline College, she was a secretary for the weekly Louisville Defender, a Black newspaper. At 17 years old, she became its society reporter. She was influenced by how learning journalism could expose her to "new worlds." She transferred to the journalism program at Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Missouri, for her bachelor's degree. She also earned her master's degree at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. She is a member of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority.

Butler was married to artist Sam Gilliam. They divorced in the 1980s but have three daughters (Stephanie, Melissa, and Leah) and three grandchildren. In 1957, she became a reporter for the Memphis Tri-State Defender, part of the Chicago Defender chain. There she worked for editor L. Alex Wilson. Watching Wilson being beaten by a white mob during the 1957 Little Rock Nine school desegregation episodes on television shook her into action. Despite Wilson's warning that Little Rock was no place for "a girl," she insisted on covering the story.

While there, Gilliam met an editor from the Johnson Publishing Company's news magazine. She continued working at Jet and Ebony. In 1961, she was hired by The Washington Post when she was 24, the first African American woman to be hired as a reporter by the paper. In October, Gilliam started her career at The Washington Post on the City Desk. In 1979, she began writing a popular Post column covering education, politics, and race; the column ran in the Metro section for 19 years. In addition to her career at The Washington Post, Gilliam is dedicated to public service.

This work stems from her days helping organize protests in the New York Daily News after it fired two-thirds of its Black staff to her tenure as president of the National Association of Black Journalists from 1993 to 1995. She briefly taught journalism at American University and Howard University. Gilliam created the Young Journalists Development Program for The Washington Post in 1997. The program brought more young people into journalism.  Post journalists work with students at local high schools; in some cases, the Post prints high-school newspapers for the schools. 

In 2004, while she held the position of J.B. and Maurice C. Shapiro Fellow at The George Washington University School of Media and Public Affairs, Gilliam founded Prime Movers Media, the nation's first journalism mentorship program for underserved students at urban schools. The program sends veteran journalists and university interns to mentor high school student journalists in Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia. The Washington Press Club awarded Gilliam its Lifetime Achievement Award in 2010. The National Center for Health Research awarded Gilliam its For mothers Lifetime Achievement Award in 2019.

to be a journalist or Reporter.

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