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Book Review: ‘Trailblazer’ by Dorothy Butler Gilliam

Book Review: ‘Trailblazer’ by Dorothy Butler Gilliam

Trailblazer: A Pioneering Journalist’s Fight to Make the Media Look More Like America by Dorothy Butler Gilliam is a fascinating memoir of the first African American woman reporter at the Washington Post. Though parts of her story fall into history retelling, she still refocuses on her life and what she’s learned from her journalism career especially supporting diversity and inclusion in the field.

Born in 1936, Dorothy overcame poverty and racism in Louisville, Kentucky to win a scholarship at a Catholic women’s college and study to become a journalist. She eventually goes on to Columbia University for her master’s degree in journalism. Her first gig is at the black newspaper in Memphis where she covers the Little Rock Nine, the nine black children who integrated a high school in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1957. Her second gig is at the illustrious Washington Post, an opportunity she earns after taking a trip throughout Africa and reporting there. This puts her at the center of the civil rights movement. Later in the 1990s, she covers Nelson Mandela’s U.S. visit during his historic presidency to black women reacting to the cinematic success of Waiting to Exhale. She also serves as the president of the National Association of Black Journalists, the largest trade organization for journalists of color.

The best parts of her memoir is focusing on her contributions and her family. Her book tends to lean in to adding so much research and history almost from a perspective that she didn’t experience it as if she’s just taking it from historical records. The most details she gives about herself is when she talks about her upbringing with losing her father at a young age and becoming an obese teen to getting married and starting a family while starting a career without role models who look like her.

Overall, it’s a good memoir about a trailblazing black female journalist who wants to use her legacy to diversify the mostly white male industry. Companion to the book, the 83-year-old journalist now is active on Twitter saluting other lesser-known trailblazing black female journalists and praising current ones trying to pave their own paths.

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