DOROTHY BUTLER GILLIAM is a former reporter, editor, columnist, author and educator, who made history as the first African American female journalist hired by The Washington Post.
Gilliam began her journalism career in 1957, as a reporter for The Memphis Tri-State Defender, a black weekly, where she covered the integration of Little Rock Central High school by the Little Rock Nine. She has been a reporter of, and advocate for, civil rights and social change ever since.
Gilliam joined The Post in October 1961, as a reporter on its City Desk. During the turbulent early 1960s, she covered major civil rights events, including the 1962 integration of the University of Mississippi. In the mid-'60s, Gilliam left The Post to devote more time and attention to her young children. After working in broadcast TV and freelance writing for magazines, Gilliam returned to The Post in 1972 as its Style section assistant editor. That section became so popular it was emulated by many other major U.S. newspapers. In 1979, Gilliam turned her journalistic skills to opinion writing as a columnist for The Post. Her column ran in The Post’s Metro section for 19 years. Gilliam retired from The Post in June 2003.
Gilliam’s commitment to improving newsroom diversity has been a lifelong passion and a distinguishing characteristic of her career. In 1977, she began a volunteer project to train minority journalists with eight other colleagues. The project soon progressed into the vibrant Robert Maynard Institute for Journalism Education, where she served as board chair from 1985-1992. From 1993-1995, Gilliam served as the president of the National Association of Black Journalists. In 1998, she left editorial writing to found and develop the Young Journalists Development Program, a long-term initiative of The Post to educate, cultivate and hire aspiring minority newspaper journalists.
After retiring from The Post in 2003, Gilliam served as senior research scientist at The George Washington University School of Media and Public Affairs and founding-director of Prime Movers, an inter-generational education program that brought professional journalists to public high schools, from 2004-2013.
A graduate of Columbia School of Journalism, Gilliam’s contributions to the field have been widely noted. She won Columbia’s Journalism Alumni of the Year Award in 1979, was inducted into the NABJ Hall of Fame in 1992; won the University of Missouri Honor Medal in Journalism in 1998; the Unity Award in Journalism from Lincoln (Mo.) University; and the Ann O'Hare McCormick Award from the New York Newspaper Women's Club in 1961. Other honors include: Lifetime Achievement Awards from the Washington Press Club Foundation in 2010, and induction into the Society of Professional Journalists’ Hall of Fame in 2002 by the Washington, D.C. Chapter.
Gilliam is the author of Paul Robeson: All American (1976). Alongside chapters in several anthologies, she is a contributor to The Edge of Change: Women in the 21st Century Press (2009). Her autobiography, Trailblazer, chronicling her life as an award-winning journalist, socio-political observer and civil rights activist, will be published January 8, 2019. In 1991, she was honored as a fellow at the Freedom Forum Media Studies Center at Columbia University, where she studied racial diversity in the American media. In 1996, she became a fellow at the Institute of Politics at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.
Gilliam was born in Memphis, Tenn., and grew up in Louisville, Ky. She graduated cum laude from Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Mo., with a B.A. in journalism. She was married to Sam Gilliam, a well-known Washington Color School painter. She has three daughters and three grandchildren. Gilliam is a member of Metropolitan A.M.E. Church in Washington, D.C., where she serves on its Steward Board and chairs the Commission on Public Relations.
[Gilliam] writes with an acute historical significance of her career...she forcefully demonstrates the continuing crisis regrading people of color in mainstream journalism.
-Kirkus Review, 2019