The brotherhood is what I was seeking when I banged out a letter to Raven seeking a position at the magazine. I was the first Black hired at the American Times Journal in DC. Several experienced and better qualified Black journalists had applied long before me. Henry Pride, the newspaper’s Mississippi-born-and-raised managing editor, had deep-sixed each one. “Didn’t you notice this is a Negro?” he’d ask as soon as the application hit his desk.
In the wake of what was becoming an annual outbreak of deadly urban uprisings, President Lyndon Johnson appointed Illinois Governor Otto Kerner to head up a commission to study race relations in the United States. The Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, better known as the Kerner Report, was published in 1968 pointing out the obvious: the United States was “moving towards two societies, one black, and one white— separate and unequal.”
Many well-meaning whites had a change of heart after the Kerner Report concluded that racism and economic inequity spurred the riots. Not Hank Pride. His standard hiring practice remained in the waning days of the Civil Rights era when good will towards Blacks was alive and well among many liberal and moderate white Americans. Out of deference to his age, his position and his power in the company, Pride’s wishes willed out.
As luck would have it, my letter and résumé arrived in the mail just days after old Henry had ripped open the last of the gag gifts at his retirement party. In the spirit of well-intentioned white Americans across the nation, the editors at the ATJ were determined not to be the last in their profession to hire a Black reporter.
The Editor-in-Chief at the ATJ vowed that he’d hire the first qualified Black that applied. Since I had spent most of my life within the city limits of my hometown, Prentice, there was nothing more attractive to me than a reporting job outside of the Midwest; one that came with free airplane tickets and four-star hotel reservations.
During my stint at the American Times Journal, I was treated much better than I anticipated. But I was too suspicious of the mentoring I was getting; worried that my white editors and colleagues were trying to assimilate me into something I was not.
Not only was I the first Black journalist working there, I was the only one. There were no Black photographers. There were no Black secretaries. There wasn’t even a Black janitor. It was just me. It was only me.
After two years nothing had changed. It was still just me. I was the token Black and I didn’t like the position. And, I wasn’t performing as well as I —or the ATJ, for that matter-- would have liked. They decided it would be better for my career development if I got some experience at a daily newspaper. I decided it was time for me to go home—to my people. Since Raven was the gold standard for Black publications, I applied there first. After not hearing from anyone in three months, I started applying to other Black publications across the nation. I got a quick response.
I’d received an offer to work for Envision, an upstart Black magazine in the Big Apple. I’d agreed to go. Then I heard from Raven. They wanted to fly me to Chicago for an interview. That wouldn’t be necessary. The American Times Journal was flying me to Chicago to cover the Black Power Summit that was being held in suburban Prentice. It wouldn’t hurt to drop by, I thought. A job interview for a position I didn’t need…this was going to be an interesting experience.