Washington Press Club Foundation


Dorothy Butler Gilliam's career in journalism includes two years with Johnson Publishing in Chicago, free-lance writing, and several years working part-time on television in Washington, D.C., during the 1970s, but most of her career has been with the Washington Post. The first black woman hired as a full-time reporter, Dorothy worked at the Post from October 1961 to 1965. She left the newspaper when she became pregnant with her second child, but in 1972 she was invited to return to the Post as an assistant editor of the revamped "Style" section. Restless in "Style" in 1979, she asked for, and received, a transfer to "Metro" section where she started writing a column. At the time of this interview she was writing her column weekly.

One of the hallmarks of Dorothy's career has been her interest in and commitment to increasing opportunities for minority journalists. During the course of the interview she was elected president of the National Association of Black Journalists (July 1993).

In preparation for the interview I started reading Dorothy's column in the Post and also read more than two dozen columns from the previous three years. I also read the work of other columnists in the Post. Kay Mills' book A Place in the News provides a good review of women in journalism, and it includes a four-page profile of Dorothy's career. Jill Nelson's book Volunteer Slavery, My Authentic Negro Experience, tells of Nelson's unhappy four years at the Washington Post; it is provocative. I used Peter B. Levy's book, Let Freedom Ring, and The Eyes on the Prize Civil Rights Reader to review the chronology of the civil rights movement.

The interviews were conducted in Dorothy's apartment in Northwest Washington, D.C. We sat in the living room, surrounded by her books and original art, including many pieces done by her former husband, Sam Gilliam. In the winter months we enjoyed a fire in the fireplace and hot coffee. Although it was difficult to schedule interviews because of the many demands on her time, when we sat together, she gave the interview her full attention and spoke openly and reflectively.

Demands on Dorothy's time increased significantly after her election as president of the National Association of Black Journalists. With her heavy travel and speaking schedule, we were unable to schedule a final interview session to discuss in detail Dorothy's activities, the environment at the Washington Post, and the tumultuous events in Washington, D.C., during the 1980s.

Like Dorothy I have lived and worked in Chicago, New York, and Washington, and my two daughters are the ages of Dorothy's three daughters. In our first meeting and through informal conversations, we looked for things in common, despite the differences in our race and life experience.

Donita M. Moorhus
June 9, 1994

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