[Begin Tape 1, Side A]
Moorhus: Let's start with getting you from Iowa to Chicago, when you finished your graduate work in Iowa.
Simpson: I finished my graduate work at Iowa with an intention of doing my thesis, which was to be done to get my master's degree, but I had finished all the course work, so I thought I would go and find a job and work on the thesis while I did that.
As I may have told you, it was 1965, and I had had all these problems before, finding work, because I was black and female. Now the job offers were coming from all over—from newspapers, from the Cincinnati Post, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. I went around and started interviewing for newspapers, because, again, although I was encouraged to go into broadcasting, still most of my training was in newspapering, and that's what I expected to be, a newspaper reporter. UPI [United Press International], AP [Associated Press], I was talking to the [Chicago] Tribune, but now a lot of people that had not been interested in me became very suddenly interested in me. This was after Birmingham and the dogs and the hoses, and it's Malcolm X and it's the civil rights movement. It's the height of the civil rights movement and the freedom rides. Clearly, employers were getting the message that they should be doing something about minorities in this industry, and I'm sure it's a time that everybody began to assess, as blacks were demonstrating in the South for rights—that everyone started becoming conscious of this big story, this huge national story of the civil rights revolution.
They started realizing, "Maybe we need some black reporter that can really explain this to the public." There were many terrific white reporters that covered the civil rights movement, but I think all across the country people in this business began to say, "We probably need a black perspective on this, and there are probably stories that can be told, an access that can be gotten that a white reporter could not." It's about that time that H. Rap Brown and Stokely Carmichael and the whole black power movement was beginning to emerge out of the civil rights movement, that all-black consciousness, "black is beautiful," and all of that. You had that working at the same time as Martin Luther King's non-violent approach; other people are saying, "Hey, this non-violence is not working." Some of those organizations would only talk to black reporters and made it clear, and they saw that as a way of getting people into the business that might not ever have an opportunity. That began happening all around the country with local black organizations—"We're not going to talk to white reporters."
Moorhus: You had said last time that one of the reasons you went to graduate school was because you thought, "Well, if I have a master's degree—" You said you wanted a master's degree because you thought if you had another degree, you could get another job. Did you try at all in '64 to look to move from Tuskegee into another media position?
Moorhus: The corollary question is, did things change that much between '64 and '65?
Simpson: In terms of what was happening in the country, yes. A year in the civil rights movement was a whole lot. People were being killed. People were being injured. Things were changing very fast. It was a very turbulent period in this country. No, I never thought about looking for a job in '64. I really thought going straight to graduate school would help. I really, at that time, thought, "This is going to help me more." But as I say, the country was moving fast. Things were moving fast. Clearly, there was a big difference from '62 to '65 in terms of people even considering hiring me because of this major story on black-white relations that was emerging in this country.
Moorhus: Do you think it did help you in '65 that you had a master's degree?
Simpson: No. I think they had heard a tape from WSUI, or I would go in and do an audition tape, or I had clippings and things, because a lot of things were written in the newspaper in Iowa. I think it was just, "Here's somebody with some experience. It may not be commercial experience, but it's somebody who can write." It was very difficult. This was not a field that many black people were in, so they tried to make people. There were schoolteachers that were [asked], "Hey, would you like to be a reporter?" A lot of black people were hired to be reporters that had no background at all, and many of them failed because they didn't know how to write and they did not know how to report. So the fact that I had this journalism background, even at the college level, but I had community newspaper work, as well, but I could write and I could report, and they heard tapes of me and they knew I could broadcast and tell a story, so I think it had nothing to do with the additional degree. It was timing and the fact—what is the saying? Luck is preparedness meeting opportunity. I think that was true in my case. They were looking for all kinds of people that they could hire to help tell the story.
I was about to take the St. Louis newspaper job, and I got a call from a radio station in Chicago. I was at my parents' house, just job-hunting, and I got this call saying, "We understand that you're looking for a job. We'd like to talk to you about it." Again this is the timing that's incredible. I was to call the newspaper editor to tell him whether I was going to accept the job in St. Louis, and he was out. I didn't get to say, "I accept the job." So I happened to be there, and the phone rang like a half hour after I had called, had made the call to say I'm going to take the newspaper job, and I got this call from the radio station saying, "We'd like to talk to you. We'd like you to do an audition." Now it's Chicago! The paper was East St. Louis, Illinois, and I forget the name of the paper. But they did stuff for the St. Louis Dispatch, so it was like giving me a chance there. Then they would take a look at me, and then I'd have an opportunity to move there. I didn't particularly want to go there, but it was the only job that seemed viable and good, and I needed to work. He wasn't there, and I was home, and I got the call from the radio station. He said, "Can you come tomorrow and talk to us?"
I said, "Yes, sure." The man called back from East St. Louis, and I said, "Look. I was going to tell you yes, but I've gotten another opportunity I feel I need to pursue before I give you a final answer. Would you mind at all if I waited a day?"
And he said, "No, not at all. Of course. Although we really would like to have you."
I said, "Well, it's an opportunity in Chicago, and that's home, and I'd really like to see."
So the next day I went to WCFL Radio, which was in the offices of Marina City in downtown Chicago. I mean, just even that—Marina City! I don't know if you know Chicago, but it's the corn-cob buildings, so it was kind of a landmark—to be able to work in this building. I went in, and it turned out the news director who called me had had lunch with a man from UPI,
and I guess they were talking about black reporters or something like that. He said, "I interviewed this woman who did some college radio. She was impressive. Maybe you'd like to talk to her. We don't have anything right now, but she's on our list as soon as something opens up." I mean, it's all so much happenstance, it's incredible.
So we talked, and he sent me out on the street. He gave me a tape recorder. There was a taxi driver strike going on in Chicago at that time; the Yellow Cab drivers were on strike. He sent me out with a tape recorder and said, "Go out and kind of cover the story for me. See what you can bring back for me."
Well, I didn't know where the Yellow Cab headquarters was. He said, "I'll give you a couple of hours to do this." This was incredible. I'd never been asked to do anything like this. So people were taking the buses, and you could tell that the buses were more crowded. I just kind of walked around the streets of downtown Chicago, trying to think of how I could tell this story. I was able at a stoplight to get a cab driver who was picking up two or three passengers. This was one of the independent cabbies that had all the business. He was saying, "I'll take you there." I said, "Could you tell me what's going on? How's business?" He says, "Business is great!" and things like that. His customers were there, and I said, "How about you folks?" And they were going on how awful it was, they were late for everything, and da da da.
So in a very short time, I got some great interviews kind of from the feature point of view of what the impact was on commuters in downtown Chicago. I think I started the piece, "'Don't get around much anymore' might be the theme song of commuters in Chicago today," and they loved it. It went on, and I cut the actuality of the cab driver and the people and stuff like that. They were just blown away. They thought it was a really, really good story, and immediately offered me a job there.
I would be the first woman to broadcast news in Chicago. They kept telling me, "There's nobody!" There was Lee Phillip, who had a show at noon in Chicago, but it was a ladies' show and it was celebrities coming to town. So in terms of news, there had never been a female broadcasting hard news in Chicago before. I think I was hired in July, and in September, WMAQ hired Jorie Luloff, who was the first woman on television to broadcast the news. So she and I were like the first women broadcasting, but I actually was the first in terms of broadcasting in Chicago.
I went to work at WCFL Radio for $800 a month, which just sounded like the most money. I couldn't believe the money. It sounded like so much money! That was going to be $10,000 a year, and my dad at the post office then, where he'd worked for thirty years, was making like $5,000 a year. Incredible money. I remember my first paycheck I gave to my parents. I took the paycheck, I gave them the money, and gave them the paycheck stub and said, "This is yours." I was so proud of this. I felt like the richest woman on earth.
And I went to work there, and it was very tough. WCFL had been the voice of labor. The Chicago Federation of Labor owned the station. At the time I came in, they were moving from this good listening format. They really wanted to make some money and make some impact, and the Chicago Federation of Labor thought it would be a good way to promote the Federation, so they decided to turn it into a rock station, but in competition with WLS, which at that time owned the market. WLS had a big signal, but so did CFL; it had 100,000 watt clear channel signal. So CFL was heard all around the Midwest. I even have people that tell me from Poughkeepsie, New York, and Schenectady, that at eveningtime they could pick up WCFL in Chicago. So it was one of those really strong stations that could be heard in many parts of the country, especially at night.
They wanted to really make an impact, and they brought in a young team of programmers and a new young news director [Art Schreiber], and they wanted to not only have the rock station, but also have a good, strong news department. Radio news, for the most part around the country, had been pretty much "rip and read." You know, you took the wire and read the radio news summary on the hour, didn't go out and cover stuff and get actuality and all that kind of thing. This was a brand-new experiment, and I was coming in as part of building it up. I think they saw me as an exotic novelty, too, to add to this mix of getting some attention for this radio station.
So I became a street reporter of a news department that numbered thirteen people. These were thirteen newspeople, which was incredible for a radio station, and we covered everything—I mean, city hall, the murders, the fires. It was a very serious news department. But, of course, I walk in there, black female, straight out of college, no commercial experience, and there was great resentment among these white male colleagues of mine. I was really put through the wringer quite a bit. They were very upset that I'd been hired. At that time Chicago was the second biggest market. It was bigger than L.A. [Los Angeles] then. Second biggest market in the country—without any previous commercial broadcasting experience. They knew it was because I was black and because I was female and I was different. They had worked their way up from tiny little stations—Peoria, Illinois, and Mexico, Missouri—to get their big chance in Chicago, so they really did not like at all the fact that I was there and on an equal footing with them and making a similar salary.
So there were attempts to sabotage me. In addition to my reporting assignments, I did the 9 a.m. news broadcast. I would come in at eight, do the nine o'clock, and then hit the street with whatever reporting assignments I had. It was, as I say, morning drive time,* a very important time period for the station, and it was a plum assignment to get a newscast at that hour. Again, they were upset about that.
So they would do things like—I had a rubber spider thrown on the desk. I'd be in the studio reading the news, and they'd take a big—being funny. They were being funny. But I'm on the air. I'm in the middle of the newscast, and someone hurls a giant rubber tarantula on the desk. I've had guys come in and stand over my shoulder and try to take my copy from me, take the bottom pages. If I'd hold up one page—each story was on a different page—hold up one story to read, they'd take my other pages away so that I would be stuck without pages, and me trying to fight with them to get my pages back. And one time not being able to finish a newscast, and having to say, "And that's the news." I mean, I just ended it. They were stuck. It was their problem. I would not allow them to fluster me. I could have bubbled and gaggled and stammered, but I refused to. When I didn't have any more pages, that was the end of the newscast. So I signed it off as "Carole Simpson, WCFL News, reporting."
I had guys come in, open the door while I'm in the studio, and moon me, drop their pants and moon me—anything to make me mess up, make me laugh, make me lose my cool, make me blow up. Actually, it was very good training, because to this day there is very little that can happen when I'm on the air or when I'm broadcasting that will shake me. I was able to just completely block out and be single-minded about something.
Not too long ago I was doing the news on Saturday, and one of the overhead lights, one of the big, huge Kleig lights exploded, and it sounded like a gunshot. [Laughter.] Glass shattered. It was behind me, fortunately, nowhere near where it could injure me. But people can't believe it,
* Drive time: when commuters in their car listen to the radio.
because with that loud explosion that made everybody jump, I kept on. It was like nothing had ever happened. I kept on going. [Laughter.] They looked at the tape again; you could not even tell in my demeanor or see my eyes jump or anything like that. But as I say, it was a loud report. It really sounded like a gunshot, and nobody could believe it. I'm sure it goes back twenty years ago when these guys would try to make me lose it and miss it.
So when I first got to WCFL, I'm sure I was used to promote the station. I mean, here was this female voice giving the news. This was unheard of! Nobody had heard this in Chicago.
Moorhus: Did they promote it in terms of announcements, radio copy?
Simpson: Not really. I guess to advertisers it was—but, no, I didn't have billboards and people saying, "Look at Carole Simpson." I don't think they were that anxious for people to know that I was black, which is another thing. Most people, hearing me, when I would show up on assignments, were shocked that I was a black person. They could not tell from—and I used to have people stop me on the street and say, "How did you learn how to talk like that?" [Laughter.] "Did you have to go to special schools? I never heard anybody colored—" That was always a thing I'd hear. "I never heard anybody colored talk like that. Your enunciation is so good and so—" That, as I told you before, I think came from acting and plays, and I knew how to use my voice, but my mother—I mean, I sounded like my mother. It wasn't like there was a big thing I had to do. But they really thought I had worked very hard to be able to effect this.
Moorhus: To sound white.
Simpson: Yes, sound white. Exactly right. But anyhow, when I was hired and given this anchor spot and stuff like that, the assignments I got were the women's stories. We were still in this age of—you know, I had been trained as a journalist. I was ready to do Mayor [Richard J.] Daley's city hall. I was ready to cover the gangland murders in Chicago and that kind of thing. But I was assigned the celebrities coming to town, the child care conferences, first day of school for kindergartners, little featurey kinds of things, any baby animal that was born at the zoo. [Laughter.] I was at Lincoln Park or Brookfield Zoo covering this new baby animal that was born or this new acquisition, and it was very frustrating to me, because, of course, [I wanted to cover] the big story that might appear in our main newscast at six o'clock or something like that. I wanted the major story of the day! I wanted the city hall story that was continuing—the fire or the plane crash or the elevated train accident. I wanted those kinds of stories, and I would beg and plead to be assigned some of those stories. What I got was, "Well, we need you to do this. You do this so well."
That's another thing I've always heard that's kept me back. "We don't want you to anchor anymore because you're such a good street reporter," or, "We don't want you covering politics because you're so good at feature stories. You have such a touch with those that nobody else can do them as well as you." This has been used time and time again to keep me from advancing and keep me from getting more opportunities.
Every now and then a guy would be sick or be tied up on some other story, and that's when I'd get to go do the big stories and the hard stories. That's what I was dying for. Eventually they began to say that I was a "good lady reporter." I was trying to get them to say I was a "good reporter" that happened to be a lady, but reluctantly they would end up saying, "She was a good lady reporter."
In 1966, Martin Luther King [Jr.] announced that he was bringing his civil rights campaign to the North, and Chicago was the target. This was a story that I was determined that I would get and felt I could get, and even they agreed that I would have a better chance of getting this story. I can remember Martin Luther King arriving. I met his flight at O'Hare [Airport]. It was a well-kept secret what hotel he was going to be in, and my news desk was helping me out, but we finally found out he was going to be at the O'Hare Inn out near the airport, and the next morning he was going to have a news conference to announce what he was going to do in Chicago. This was a huge story, because Chicago's upset, Mayor Daley's upset. "How dare he come to Chicago? What is he doing up here? Carpetbagger! Stay down there where you belong." All of that was a huge, huge story, and everybody wanting to know what was he coming here for, to demonstrate against what? Was he going to have marches? Nobody knew.
I found out where the hotel was and went floor by floor trying to find activity, and nobody would tell me. They wouldn't confirm that he was there. I was in and out of the hotel, trying to sneak around, and finally got inside and got to elevators. He had security guards. I'm sure they weren't armed or anything, but people were protecting him. So I kept going up and down the elevators, just trying to find what floor, where the room was, and finally found his room. It must have been about eight o'clock at night when I finally found out what floor he was on and what room, and there was a suite of rooms. He had come with a whole entourage. I got as close as I could get and tried to say, "I'm Carole Simpson. I'm with a radio station in Chicago, and I'd really like to find out what's going on." Then I was—"Please, brother. Sister. Help me out here." [Laughter.] I was cajoling everybody I could possibly get to help me. "Please. It would be really great if a black person were able to scoop this story." They kind of laughed at me and, "Ha, ha, ha." Here I am, you know, this little black girl, quite young, from a little radio station. It didn't mean anything. They'd been dealing with CBS and NBC and stuff like that. But I was the only reporter that was up there, and I just parked myself. I sat down in the corridor with my tape recorder, and I had some newspapers and stuff, and I said, "Well, I'm not leaving until I find out what's going on." And I sat and I sat, and there was all kinds of activity, people going in and out. All night long I sat. I was determined I was not going to leave until somebody told me something. I stayed, and there was activity all night long. They were meeting. There were people coming and going and laughing at me, stepping over me in the hallway.
Finally, about four o'clock in the morning, somebody came out and said, "Who are you? What are you waiting for?" I tried to tell them I was Carole Simpson, "I've been here all night. I really wanted to be able to find out and report this scoop on what Dr. King—" The news conference was scheduled for like ten o'clock the following morning. I said, "Please. Somebody give me some idea. I'll go away quietly if you'll just give me—I don't want to bother Dr. King or anything."
And he said, "Well, I'll see what I can do." And again, it was a novelty for them to even see a black reporter. So obviously somebody took pity on me. I can remember, at about 7:30 in the morning, I'm still there—I was there all night long—7:30 in the morning, Dr. King and his entourage came out. They were going to breakfast at some church or something like that. He was walking out, and he said, "Where is she?" I could hear him say that. [Laughter.] They pointed to me over there, and he said, "Young lady, have you been here all night long?"
I said, "Yes, Dr. King. I'm sorry. I hope I didn't cause anybody any trouble, but I'm a young struggling black reporter, and your coming to Chicago is a major, major story, and I would give anything if I'd be able to break this story as to what you're here for and what it's about."
And he said, "Well, if you stayed up all night—" I'll never forget. I mean, Martin Luther King gave me my first scoop! And he said, "It's housing. We're going to attack the housing segregation patterns in this city, and we're going to open up Chicago to fair housing." And I had it!
I immediately raced—so that means in our drive time, I was on by eight o'clock that morning, and all up until—of course, Dr. King was notoriously late. The news conference was supposed to be at ten, and I think it finally was on at 11:30. But WCFL and I were reporting what this was all about, so we scooped that.
Moorhus: Did he do that on tape?
Simpson: No, he wouldn't give me an interview. He said, "It's going to be on fair housing." So I was able to say, you know, "Dr. Martin Luther King has told WCFL News that his campaign in Chicago will be to attack the housing segregation." It was incredible. Then eventually the wires picked it up and it had to be attributed to us, what had happened.
So, of course, his death*—I mean, so I had that special thing. It's really funny. People talk about it. After years of covering public figures, there are very few people that have an aura, and he did. I mean, in his presence, even in that hotel corridor, there was something about him that was just incredible. I will never forget that moment that he is looking at me and talking to me. It was a very, very special moment. I don't know if you saw in my office, there's a picture of me and him later, because then I continued to cover all of the stuff that happened in Chicago with him, when he was pelted with rocks and stuff like that.
Clearly, I had demonstrated then to WCFL that there were major stories that I could get and probably nobody else on that staff might have been able to or would have had the tenacity to do it. It was important to me as a black person, because I was concerned about problems of civil rights in the country, so that clearly I had a sensitivity to the subject matter and something that would give me an edge. So pretty much from then on I became one of their important reporters and was routinely assigned stuff. I no longer did the women's stories. There was no other woman, but then between '66 and—well, I was at WCFL from '65 to '68, and that was clearly one of the worst periods in Chicago racial history there. The riots on the West Side occurred, and King and the marches in Gage Park and Marquette Park and Students for Democratic Society, then the Democratic convention, days of rage—just incredible stories happening.
We also had at that time Northwestern University, when the black students took over the administration building, and I covered that. Then all of the anti-war stuff was happening on the college campuses and at the University of Chicago, students took over the administration building there. There were just so many stories, and it was such an incredible experience for me, because I really got to see firsthand the civil rights struggle and cover it, and the anti-war movement. And just the experience of having, under deadline, to report this stuff live, to write it quickly, all of these other kinds of things, was just tremendous experience for me as a young reporter covering this huge, huge story.
I don't know where else to go.
* Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated April 4, 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee.
Moorhus: Did you get labeled as a black reporter, and were you limited then to covering racial stories and issues, as opposed to other kinds of political stories?
Simpson: Not at all. It's just that that story then became such a big continuing story and it could not be ignored. Protest and stuff in the streets and all that. But from then on—I was at Mayor Daley's press conference when he announced his "shoot to kill" order for arsonists and "shoot to maim" looters. This was an incredible—the Chicago police being ordered to—no, I went on to cover city hall. So much of the city then became caught up in all of this. Then you had the local schools. It was just an incredible time. There was just so much news, it was unbelievable! I can't remember any other period of time in history when so much was going on and there was so much turmoil, young against old, black and white, rich and poor. It felt at times like the country was coming apart at the seams. It was a horrible, horrible period, but for a young reporter, it was the best experience I could possibly have gotten, because there was so much, and under deadline. "Now this has happened! Now they're rioting here." And the schools—there were all kinds of racial problems in the schools. So race, that story, just became the big story, and I was one of the big reporters on it. I don't think it's only because I was black. All of our resources were being poured into covering it.
Moorhus: In the time that you were at the radio station, did they hire any other blacks or women?
Simpson: No. No. One of the other interesting things—I don't know if I told you that before. Maybe I did tell you before about the man who was driving through Iowa and heard me on the radio.
Simpson: A year after I started at WCFL, I got this call from the news director of WMAQ [Bill Corley] wanting to hire me away. I'd only been on the air a year, but, as I say, because nobody had ever heard a woman, people knew me. People knew my voice, knew my name, and that radio station was then building a huge audience. So he wanted me to come work at WMAQ-TV just a year after I had started at the radio station, and I really wanted to do it. Right? And I talked to my news director, who is now in Albuquerque, New Mexico—I keep in touch with him—Art Schreiber, and he told me, he said, "Carole, of course I'd hate to see you go, but you have just had a year of doing radio news. They want to put you into TV right now, and you could go and do that, and I'm sure you'd be good at what you do, but why don't you have them come back to you. They'll want you in the future because you're good. But in three years' time, when you're more of a household name, look at what you'll be able to command then. Don't go in as a little inexperienced fish. Continue to do this." And it's some of the best advice I got. I mean, it was very hard to turn that down. Oh, my god, to go to TV and work at the NBC-owned and operated station was, you know, extremely alluring to a young black girl. But he was right, because I continued to work on all these other things, and then people really knew me. They really, really knew me, and it's true, they continued to offer me jobs. He said, "Bide your time. Bide your time until you can go in there and command the biggest salaries and the best opportunities."
Moorhus: What was going on in your personal life during this time? Where did you live?
Simpson: When I started at the radio station, I was still living with my parents. It was 1965. I started in July of 1965 at WCFL. In September of that year, my old boyfriend from Michigan [James Marshall] happened to come to a convention in Chicago. His fraternity was having a national convention, and at the time he was working in San Jose, California. We had been friends through the years, through the five years since we left college. We were always friends.
So he came to the convention, and we got together. There was some banquet, and he invited me to go as his date there. We just picked up right where we left off. It was just like nothing had ever happened, and we really rekindled the old flame during that period of time. He said, "You know, I think I'm going to move back. I'd like to move to Chicago." And I said, "Are you kidding?" He said, "No, I'm going to start looking for a job." He was working for General Electric. He was working as a nuclear engineer then. He said, "I'm going to look for a job in Chicago." I said, "Well, that would be great!" Because I really did like him.
So during that period of time, I had started my career, and he began looking for jobs. In February he got a job at Argonne National Laboratory, working on fast breeder reactors out there, and he moved back to Chicago. Clearly it was in his mind all this time that we get married. I still wasn't thinking about marriage; I was thinking about my career. But he moved back in February and immediately asked me to marry him. It's the funniest proposal probably anyone's gotten. I kept going, "I don't really want to be married now." And he kept pestering me and pestering me.
And I caught the flu. It was early March or something, and I caught the flu and I was sick in bed. He came by to see me and bring me some orange juice or something like that in my parents' home. I'm still living with my parents. So he came into the bedroom. I was in bed, I had a terrible temperature, and he said, "Are you going to marry me or not?"
I said, "Come on, don't bring this up now. I'm feeling sick."
And he said, "Well, that's it. I'm not asking you anymore." And he got up, grabbed his coat, and he walked outside. He left! And here I am in my nightgown. I grabbed my slippers. I mean, I thought he would come back. He didn't come back. [Laughter.]
So I throw on my coat, I'm sick, and I'm running down the street. I'm going, "Wait a minute! You're not just going to walk out like this. Aren't we going to talk about this?"
He said, "We've talked about it enough. I'm not talking about it anymore." He said, "Yes or no, right now." We're out in the street, in the snow, in Chicago, the end of February, early March, and he says, "Yes or no? That's it. No more talking."
And I said, "Okay. Okay, I will." [Laughter.] So anyhow, it was not romantic at all, and I'm sick, and there was no, "Oh, yes, my love." It was kind of, "Let me get back inside." So we got married the September of 1966.
Moorhus: We've never had his name on the record, so let's do that.
Simpson: Jim Marshall.
Moorhus: Where had he grown up?
Simpson: Dayton, Ohio.
Moorhus: So he was from Ohio. You met him at Michigan. Engineering school—nuclear engineering.
Simpson: He was in actually engineering mechanics, but ended up getting a job in the nuclear field.
Moorhus: Where were you married?
Simpson: At Graham Taylor Chapel on the University of Chicago campus. And we moved into an apartment in Hyde Park, a little two-bedroom apartment. And I kept my name.
Moorhus: That was unusual.
Simpson: This was very unusual. In that short period of time, because I'd been the first, the radio station said, "Please don't change your name." And I hated Carole Marshall. [Laughter.] You know, I was twenty-five when we got married, and it really is hard after you've been—you know, you go on as one name all this time, and then signing off every day, the name is then your signature and stuff like that. I'm going, "I really don't want to change it." But the radio station was saying, "Please don't."
And thank God I married a man who did not have his identity tied up in his wife and, "I have to be the man and I have to be in charge." I've since had friends whose husbands were adamant that they take their names, but he didn't care. He just really didn't care. So my legal name is Carole Simpson Marshall for all legal purposes, and I'm Mrs. Marshall at school with the children and things like that, but for all of my professional stuff everybody knows me as Carole Simpson. And he is often called Mr. Simpson and introduced as Jim Simpson, and, again, a lot of men would have a big problem with that. "I don't want to be Mr. Simpson." But he's always known that I work in this crazy field, I've always made more money than he has, always have, and he realizes, I mean, he's doing the important work. "I'm a scientist. You're like in show business." So that wasn't a problem to him. "Of course you'd make more money; you're in that industry," which, again, a lot of men, I think, have a problem. I've heard it from my friends. They just cannot deal with it. He's the one pushing, "You need more money." [Laughter.] He has never been upset and never felt that his masculinity has been threatened in any way by my success, and I'm sure that's why we have a marriage that's lasted twenty-six years, because he is that kind of person.
I would not be here today were it not for him, and I've said this publicly and I say it to him all the time. He has always been behind me, pushing me. "Don't take it. Don't stand for it. Go for that." He is my counsel, he's my friend, he's my rock, he's my support, he's my everything. I really am not sure that I would have—I had a lot of determination and I had a lot of ambition, but there were lots of rocky paths in my struggle to get where I am, but fortunately having him has helped me be strong, helped me face things that maybe if I didn't have someone like that, I might not have been able to face. It sounds really corny, but I tell young women, "You marry somebody." "I want someone who makes bells and whistles." He didn't give me bells and whistles, but he was someone that had ambition as I did. We were going in the same direction. We had similar goals in life, and we were friends. We enjoyed being with each other. We would talk. I mean, to this day it amazes me. We'll go out when the kids aren't around or something, and go out to dinner ourselves, and we're able to talk about so much stuff! [Laughter.] I think of most old married couples, and you see them, and they don't have anything to talk about. We always have something to talk about, and we argue about politics and everything else.
Perhaps because he's in another field, too, helps. He can kind of, with a distanced eye, look at things with me, which I think is extremely, extremely helpful. He's now vice president of a management consulting firm. He went on and got an MBA, left science, and now in the business field. I don't understand anything about his job and what he does, and get bored to tears every time he tries to tell me about it—10K forms and the Securities and Exchange Commission and audits and that kind of thing. But I think it's good, because we have these two distinct and very
different [careers]—but yet he can look at my stuff and really help me get it in perspective because he's outside of it.
Moorhus: That seems very unusual for 1965. Do you think your relationship has evolved over the years, or did you start out with much of the same kind of understanding between the two of you that you have now?
Simpson: I think so. He knew early on what kind of job I had, that I would be called in the middle of the night to go cover a story. We have many times had plans that we've had to cancel because of the work I did. Sometimes we'd be going out and I'd get called. I'd have to check in. It really was a twenty-four-hour-a-day job. They had no hesitation at all of calling me any time of day or night to go cover a story.
[End Tape 1, Side A; Begin Tape 1, Side B]
Moorhus: So he took you on assignments?
Simpson: Yes, he would often take me to these stories when I'd be called in the middle of the night, because he didn't want me driving by myself. We only had one car at that time, so he would go. So he's always been a part of it. He's understood it, he's understood what the demands are on my time, and he knew what he was getting into. Here is a woman who is going to keep her name. We will not ever be able to plan anything for long periods of time. And that continues to this day. Still I've been called back from vacations that we have had, to go on a foreign trip or something like that. So he knows it's part of what is expected of me in my job, and appreciates that and understands that and gives me as much support as he possibly can in doing that, thank God.
Moorhus: Did he come from a family that prepared him in some way for being able to cope like this?
Simpson: I think so. His mother and father both worked in the defense industry in Dayton, Ohio. Wright-Patterson Air Force Base was there, and his father was a GS-something. Both of them had worked for the government, had been civil service employees for the government for many years. His mother went back to work. There were two children, and he's four years older than his sister. I think she went back to work when his sister was maybe four or five years old, maybe starting kindergarten. So he became the big brother, and he would have to look after his sister and bring her home, walk her home. It was Dayton, Ohio. You didn't have to worry about things like you now do with children, but neighborhoods where neighbors looked out after kids and stuff like that. She'd start the dinner and he would finish it. They had chores, lots of chores. So he grew up in a home where his mother was working, so he wasn't used to being catered to by a mother that would do everything. They had to wash their clothes, they had to do the dishes, they had to set the table. He had to look out after his sister. So I think that's a big difference, that he grew up in a household where his mother worked. His father always helped out. I can remember big Thanksgiving dinners and the women did the cooking and the men did the clean-up. They did all the dishes. So he did grow up in a household where everybody pitched in and helped, because there was a working mother.
Moorhus: Were there any adjustments that you did have to make when you were first married? Any changes in the way you had been living?
Simpson: Well, going from your parents' house to—it's being grown-up people. But not really.
Moorhus: Did it change the way people at the radio station perceived you?
Moorhus: Did they expect you would quit or expect that you would have children right away and then quit?
Simpson: Never asked about it.
Moorhus: I think that might be unusual for that period.
Simpson: I think it is, yes. Now that you mention it, no, no one—they came to the wedding. Lots of my colleagues came to the wedding. They had a shower for me at the radio station. No, nobody ever said, "Oh, you're going to leave now, now that you're married." I think by that time I had demonstrated that I was pretty serious about what I did, that I was not just dabbling and waiting to get married. I think they even knew—I may have told them about the crazy engagement, the crazy proposal, that I really didn't want to get married, but didn't want to lose him either.
Moorhus: So September, you were married. You settled into life together. You continued to cover major stories and events in Chicago. Then in '68, you left that radio station. How did that transfer happen?
Simpson: About that time, CBS, WBBM Radio, decided to move to an all news format. Here was the opportunity for a twenty-four-hour—I mean, this was brand new then. It was a CBS-owned and operated station, and they offered me a job with a considerable increase in salary. I think they close to doubled my salary, which again was just $20,000. [Laughter.]
Moorhus: It must have been more by that time.
Simpson: It was really big money. So I was happy where I was and with what I was doing. By that time I was doing other newscasts, as well as reporting. I did movie reviews. Someone else did book reviews, but I read them. So I had a very visible role in the station and many opportunities to do things. We did documentaries. I was quite happy, but here was the all news station that was going to start up.
Moorhus: What about the lure of television during this time?
Simpson: No, at that time, again, WMAQ was still saying, "We're still interested in having you," but again I was thinking, "Maybe five years." I was really kind of thinking along the lines of five years in radio, because you used to hear that about five years of newspaper experience. A lot of times television wanted that. So I'm thinking, "Five years of this." But all news, and they were going to give me a show on Saturday. I'd be able to anchor from two to eight on the all news station. Again, it was more opportunity. Still they [WMAQ] were just talking about a reporter at Channel 5, and this was still doing what I now knew I could do well, and the opportunity to anchor. So I took it.
Moorhus: When did you make that move?
Simpson: In June of '68.
Moorhus: So it was before the Democratic National Convention.
Simpson: Before the Democratic National Convention. I was working for WBBM when that happened. That whole year—god, that was the year [Martin Luther] King died [April 4, 1968]. I covered the riots after that. The [Robert] Kennedy assassination [June 6, 1968]. George Lincoln Rockwell. There was just so much happening, it was so incredible. I went to work at WBBM. I don't know when the start-up was. I was one of the early people. I came in shortly after that whole format started, and that was huge hype, really big hype for Chicago, a lot of advertisement and the kind of people that were being brought there. Again, I was the only female on the air, still.
Moorhus: You were a focus of the advertising?
Simpson: Just a name on a list of people, but there were some well-known names. In fact, Van Gordon Sauter, who had been a [Chicago] Daily News reporter, he was chief correspondent and I was called special correspondent. John Madigan—you remember him—was political editor. So they had a lot of big names they were putting up that were part of this roster of talent for this station.
It was in '68, covering the convention, I was covering Hubert Humphrey and doing his campaigning around the state of Illinois, and during the Democratic convention I was assigned to Lincoln Park, where some of the demonstrations—we had people all over the place. I was in the park that night when—you know, reporters used to always kind of stay on the—we'd kind of get where the protestors were. That had been the way, covering the civil rights movement, reporters were always with the protesters. So in typical fashion, we were covering the protesters, the yippies, hippies, and Black Panthers and everybody else that was assembled there, and that's when the police turned. You remember when the police turned on that crowd in Lincoln Park. I was running from them. I mean, the police just charged. All of a sudden they just turned and just started charging toward the crowd of demonstrators, and we were all in it. Reporters were all in it—cameramen and stuff like that. Many people got beaten. Fortunately, all I did was fall and twist an ankle, which still bothers me. I was taken to a hospital with a—I didn't know. I couldn't walk at all. I didn't know if it was broken or what. But I was just running and falling and twisting my ankle. So I was kind of out of commission then. It was wrapped and I had a cane. They discovered it was a bad sprain, but I have this "souvenir" from 1968 that re-injures itself every now and then. [Laughter.] There's a weakness in that ankle.
I couldn't cover much after that, and I can remember the last day of the convention. I was at home. I was supposed to stay off this ankle. We were living on Fifty-fifth Street, right near Lake Park Avenue and the IC [Illinois Central] tracks. I can remember the last day of the convention. My husband woke me up. It was five o'clock in the morning, and we saw these tanks rolling down Fifty-fifth Street. He woke me up and said, "Look outside!" They had been over in Jackson Park. They had put these national guards and federal troops all around the city, and they were pulling out that night. But this frightening scene! My god, is this the United States of America or what? And after a week in which we saw what happened with the demonstrators out in front of the Conrad Hilton Hotel and at Grant Park and all of that. But as I say, I was early taken out of commission with my ankle, but it was a horrible, horrible time.
But it is at WBBM that I did what I think is my crowning achievement. Maybe the debate now is my crowning achievement.* But this was my crowning achievement for a long, long time. After the '68 convention, you'll remember that the Chicago Seven—it was actually Chicago Eight, first of all—were indicted for crossing state lines to incite riots. I was assigned to the trial. I was working at WBBM at that time. My reports were heard by all the CBS-owned and operated stations, so I was reporting not only for WBBM, but for WCBS in New York, for KCBS, KNX in Los Angeles, St. Louis, KMOX, in Cleveland—I forget the call letters of the CBS station there. So all my reports on the trial were being covered by—all of those had all news stations at that time.
So I was assigned to cover the trial, and you may know, this was a trial that attracted worldwide attention because everybody remembered what had happened at the Democratic convention. So there were like fifty reporters from all over. The BBC was there, Reuters, I mean, this was a really big trial. It began in September, and I found out I was pregnant in October. So I was pregnant during this trial, and this was an incredible trial, because Bobby Seale—who was the Chicago Eight, the head of the Black Panther Party who had been indicted along with the yippies and hippies and anti-war people—Bobby Seale during this period of time wanted to act as his own counsel, fired his lawyer, and they would not let him. He was bound and gagged, and there was this incredible scene in the courtroom, as he would continue to try to be heard, and they had him in a chair, handcuffed behind him, and they kept trying to make bandages that would muffle his noises, and he would keep murmuring. It was just an incredible—day after day, they would keep trying to make him quieter and quieter. Judge [Julius] Hoffman, who was this little martinet who was not going to have any disturbance in his courtroom—I mean, it was just incredible.
Well, during this period of time where all of this was happening, and the Black Panthers were coming and there were bomb threats on the federal building and all these other kinds of things, I'm having morning sickness. I was alternating runs to the telephone to file this story with runs to the bathroom to throw up. I was sick as a dog. [Laughter.] It was one of the hardest things. I was just feeling green, and having to go back in the courtroom to cover the story. But I was bound and determined nobody would hear me, and I hadn't told anybody I was pregnant, so I couldn't tell them, "I can't do the story." I got like the biggest story in town, so I was trying to keep this a secret and trying to continue to work, feeling as awful as I was, and I had a doctor that didn't want to—thank god—prescribe me any anti-nausea things. He would tell me to eat soda crackers and drink some tea. So this was very, very hard. The whole trial was emotionally draining. The hours were very long. Sometimes we'd have Saturday sessions.
The trial wore on and on. Bobby Seale was finally cut from the—they decided they were going to try him separately and just couldn't put up with him, and it became the Chicago Seven. The trial wore on and on, and I'm getting bigger and bigger and bigger, and it was like, "Is this trial ever going to be over?" [Laughter.] There were like 150 witnesses for the prosecution and then the defense brought in others. It went on for six months, and I'm wondering, "Am I going to have this baby?" I was hoping the trial would be over before I had to deliver this baby.
Finally I'm like eight months pregnant and huge. My daughter was eight and a half pounds. I was huge, and just kind of waddling around. My ankles would swell, sitting in the courtroom all day, and I'd try to prop them up. Oh, it was just—and then she'd be moving in there. Just trying to sit through all of that and do the reporting—and I was filing maybe eight, ten times a day.
* On October 16, 1992, during the presidential campaign of 1992, Carole Simpson moderated an innovative debate of three presidential candidates with a live audience asking questions.
Page 42 A lot of stuff was happening. I mean, it was breaking news. So the question was, was this trial going to be over or was I going to have this baby first. Of course, I knew all the marshals and the defendants. Everybody knew I was this big huge pregnant thing.
So finally the trial comes to an end, and the jury goes out, and my employers at WBBM decided they'd better put me close to the courthouse. "We want you to stay in a hotel." They put me up at the Palmer House so that I'd be very close to the courthouse once the verdict came in, so I would have my husband there—I couldn't drive, and it's waiting for a cab. "Let's just have you close to the courthouse." It was so emotional, the closing arguments, and it was just a horribly emotionally draining experience, plus the hours and the reporting of it. I'm having terrible—I mean, I had hemorrhoids, I had heartburn. [Laughter.] I had everything—yeast infections, you name it. Not a pregnancy that was a dangerous pregnancy, but every horrible little annoyance that could come—swollen ankles. I had them all, okay?
And here after the trial I was just in this emotional state. I couldn't sleep. The baby was moving. The baby would sleep all day and at night, when I'd try to sleep, it was just doing flip-flops. I was just a wreck. And the jury keeps going on. It was four days. Finally, the morning of the verdict, I get the call in the hotel room that the jury was back, and to get to the courthouse as quickly as possible.
Moorhus: What is the date?
Simpson: The date would have been—let's see. The trial started in September. February something. I can't remember.
Simpson: 1970. February something.* I get the call, and I tell my husband, "Oh, god, it's today. Not today!" I just felt I could not go through this today. My boss is on the phone. He says, "Look. We've got to be first. We've got to scoop this thing, okay?"
I'm going, "Are you crazy? I'm not going to risk a premature labor. I'll do the best I can, but I'm not going to kill myself trying to do it."
They said, "Look. We've got it all set up. All you have to do is get to this telephone." What they had done was, outside the courtroom—I had a very aggressive news director [Van Gordon Sauter], and he had gotten an office that was around the corner, somebody's office he made a deal with. "Let us use this phone." I don't know what he promised him or whatever, or if it was someone just being nice. But he had arranged that all I had to do was get to this tiny office around the corridor from the courthouse and there would be one of my colleagues with the phone open, open phone to our control room, our studios, and there would be an engineer who, with the flick of a button, he could have me on the air simultaneously on all these stations. So they had it all worked out, really. All I had to do was get to the phone and talk. They had it all worked out.
We go in there, and it's jammed. There's all these reporters, and the courtroom is jammed. I'm like, "Where can I sit?" Because I'd covered trials before and I know what the mad dash is to the phone with the verdict, I'm thinking, "I don't want to get trampled in here." So I decided to seat myself right at the door, the last seat right close to the door, and I'm thinking I can stay out
* The verdict in the trial of the Chicago Seven was announced February 18, 1970.
of the crush, I can get out of the way, or something like that, but that's where I decided to position myself. The verdict came in. Again, I'm feeling just awful, like, "Please make this be over with." And they read the verdicts. Five were guilty and two were acquitted. So while they are polling the jury, I sketch out my report. I actually had a report that all I had to feed in was "guilty" or "not guilty," and went on, how many days of the trial. So I was ready. I had my script and stuff like that. So I was ready to go, and they start polling the jury, each one of them. "Is this your verdict?" While they were in the process of doing this, and we're all just chomping at the bit, waiting to get out, one of the deputy marshals—and the doors had been locked. We were all locked in the courtroom. Again, you have to realize all of the threats of, "If they're acquitted, we're going to blow up the—" I mean, unbelievable security and unbelievable attention devoted to this really scary kind of situation. And the Black Panthers were threatening this.
All of a sudden, the deputy marshal came to the back of the courtroom and unlocked the door. To this day I do not know what made me do it, but I just got up and walked right behind him, and all of a sudden the other reporters look up, and everybody like leaps up, and the judge turns around and says, "Bolt that door!" And I was gone. I was down the hall. All the reporters were locked inside. I got to that phone, scooped everybody by ten minutes. The CBS television reporter was locked in the room, so CBS Television had to use my radio report as the bulletin—they just put up, "Here's a special report," and used my radio report for the entire network. And it was so satisfying because the whole nation had been scooped by a black pregnant woman! [Laughter.] Everybody! All the things that are supposed to make me not able to do any of these things. So that was a great joke. Of course, as far as my bosses were concerned, this was just the greatest thing in the entire world. We beat everybody. We beat the wires. We beat everyone! For television to have to take radio's report to put it on the air, of course, made all my bosses in New York and everywhere else extremely delighted. So there were roses and a big dinner and all these kinds of things.
I continued to work and then ended up going on maternity leave. While I was on maternity leave, I got a call from WMAQ again. Everybody knew who had done that story, and here's WMAQ again saying, "You've got to come to work for us now." I was going to be on maternity leave for five months, so I thought, "Maybe this is the time to change."
Moorhus: When was your daughter Mallika born?
Simpson: She was born May of 1970. Is it May? Maybe the trial was in March. I'm not sure of the dates. I'll have to look that up.
Moorhus: But she was born in May.
Simpson: She was born in May.
Moorhus: That you're sure of. [Laughter.]
Simpson: That I'm sure of. So that September I went to WMAQ and then began television.
Moorhus: How far in advance of your daughter's due date did you stop working?
Simpson: About a month. It was shortly after the trial.
Moorhus: You stopped working. She was born. WMAQ-TV came to you, and you decided to accept them at this point. So you went to work for them in September of 1970.
Moorhus: Good time to stop for today?
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