Ethel Payne: Hemingway of the Black Press

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Reared in Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood in the early 1900s, award-winning journalist Ethel Lois Payne had a flair for words and writing, and according to one of her high school teachers, her work was reminiscent of renowned writer Ernest Hemingwa

Reared in Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood in the early 1900s, award-winning journalist Ethel Lois Payne had a flair for words and writing, and according to one of her high school teachers, her work was reminiscent of renowned writer Ernest Hemingway.

Payne attended Lindblom High School and Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, to name a few, but afterwards, her professional writing career didn’t start immediately.

Instead of delving into the journalism pool that had little room for Black journalists, she took advantage of opportunities that allowed her to travel around the globe.

While serving as a hostess at an Army Special Services club in Japan in 1948, she often wrote in a journal about her own experiences and those of Black soldiers.

One day, a reporter from The Chicago Daily Defender read the journal and took it back to Chicago for others at the paper to review. Shortly thereafter, Payne’s writings appeared on the pages of the Defender–and the other Sengstacke Newspapers: The Courier Group in Pittsburgh, Pa., Michigan Chronicle and the Tri-State Defender in Memphis, Tenn.–and Payne’s career as a journalist was born.

She moved back to Chicago in the early 1950s and became a full-time reporter for two years, then went on to head the Defender‘s one-person bureau in Washington, D.C. Payne was one of two Black women assigned to the White House Press Corps.

During her White House press tenure, she covered seven U.S. presidents and was often known as the thorn in the president’s side because she always asked the difficult questions.

In addition to her Capitol Hill assignment, she also reported on the Civil Rights movement, including the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the 1963 March on Washington.

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