Justice, redemption: My letter to the editor

Justice, redemption: My letter to the editor

Screen Shot 2019-07-17 at 11.55.49 AMAfter all the years of being “the editor” of a local newspaper, it is a thrill to have one of my letters published by my local newspaper, the Savannah Morning News. Here’s the link.

 

https://www.savannahnow.com/opinion/20190716/letters-to-editor-wednesday-justice-redemption-for-local-lynching-victims

 

My Women’s History: ‘How did you get here?’

My Women’s History: ‘How did you get here?’

This is my final weekly blog post related to Women’s History Month. The posts have been  about accomplishments and lessons from women in my village. These are excerpts from my upcoming memoir Coming Full Circle: Jim Crow to Journalism.

At the Providence (RI) Evening Bulletin, in my first newsroom job there were two professional women journalists — the religion reporter and me, a copy editor. There were women in what we called the dictation pool, a group of fast-typing ladies who worked on manual typewriters with telephone receivers that had shoulder rests attached to reduce neck strain leaning to the left or to the right to take calls. 

Even the pool of what we called back then “copy boys” had no women in the mix. Copy boys were young, mostly under the age of 21. They were there to “rip” copy off the wire machines, run stories from one news desk to another, and frankly, a couple of times a day they would walk through the newsroom to  take orders and our money for coffee and snacks. 

Having women working in the newsroom in Providence must have been an afterthought because a ladies restroom was retrofitted from a closet in the newsroom’s “morgue” or library down the hall on the floor where we worked. On my first day working in Providence, I was handed a key to the ladies room. It was a space so small that we kept the door locked for privacy when someone was in there.

One day one of the dictationists used her key and came in as I was standing at the sink washing my hands. She struck up a conversation.

“How did you get here?” she asked me.

I was puzzled and looked at the door, not wanting to believe she wondered if I came through the same single restroom door she had just entered.

She asked again. “Where did you come from before you came to the newspaper?”

She explained to me that the ladies in the dictation pool were discussing the oddity of this young black and female copy editor, something they had never imagined for the newspaper’s staff. Remember, this was 1970. We had just emerged from the tumultuous decade of the 1960s’ Civil Rights Movement. Almost every newsroom in the nation was staffed  just like Providence, mostly white and male. The women’s movement had not yet come to newsrooms.

“Oh, you want to know how I got this job,” I responded.

“I am an intern,” I told her, going on to explain that I was a college student taking journalism classes, that I had studied journalism since I was in high school, was editor of my high school newspaper, had worked on my college newspaper and would be returning to be the editor of the Spelman Spotlight at Spelman College at the end of the summer.

“An organization (the Dow Jones Newspaper Fund) chose me for this internship,” I told her. “They sent me to Temple University in Philadelphia for a crash course in copy editing for three weeks this summer, and they assigned me here to work for the rest of the summer.”

“Oh, you are in college,” was her response.

During our quick conversation I learned that she, nor any of the ladies in the dictation pool, had gone to college. They had not fathomed that a person who is black and female would have the opportunity to get a college education. She actually told me that. That may have been the first time I realized what a unique opportunity I had to become a journalist at the beginning of the 1970s decade.

 

My Women’s History: ‘Time passes, but will you?’

My Women’s History: ‘Time passes, but will you?’

In March for Women’s History Month I am presenting weekly blog posts about accomplishments and lessons from women in my village. These are excerpts from my upcoming memoir Coming Full Circle: Jim Crow to Journalism.

Our black teachers in segregated schools gave us life lessons with no apologies. Their instruction went way beyond reading, writing and arithmetic. They went beyond what we learned in books as they grounded us in culture and moral values, and sometimes they steeled us for challenges we might have as young African Americans in an era when, referred to as Negroes and colored, we were clearly considered to be second-class citizens outside the protection of our own schools or homes.

remington standard typewriter in greyscale photography

At Alfred Ely Beach High School female teachers would pull girls aside as they observed our changing bodies and let us know that “respectable” young ladies must wear the right kind of undergarments, so as to reduce the jiggles that might entice certain reactions from boys. I’m certain boys got life lessons from male teachers.

We were taught that those who sat closest to the front of the classroom had the best opportunity to learn. Today when I attend meetings or professional workshops, I still make it a habit to find a seat near the front of the room, or close to the leader of the meeting so I can see and hear well and be recognized first when I have suggestions or questions. We were also taught to be patient, to sit still and take in the entire lesson each day, instead of fidgeting or packing up 45 minutes into a one-hour class.

Stella Reeves, who taught social studies, was one of the strictest teachers in our school. I unsuccessfully tried to avoid taking her classes, because I saw her as too demanding. She kept a sign posted under the analog school clock (you know, the ones millennials and children don’t know how to read because they’re  all about digital). The sign read: “Time passes, but will you?” It was a reminder that watching the clock was not the best habit for those of us who expected good grades.

Being a good learner means being an engaged learner. In my older years, I find myself quoting Mrs. Reeves’ clock message as I counsel young people who don’t seem to value time the way we were taught.

Next week: “How did you get here?”

My Women’s History: Meeting a higher standard

My Women’s History: Meeting a higher standard

In March for Women’s History Month I am presenting weekly blog posts about accomplishments and lessons from women in my village. These are excerpts from my upcoming memoir Coming Full Circle: Jim Crow to Journalism.

Saturday afternoon shopping during the 1950s and 1960s with my grandmother on Broughton Street, Savannah’s main downtown thoroughfare, was always a treat for me. Oper Lee Walker was a study in sartorial excellence. She was an outstanding seamstress and she made all of her dress-up clothes. She made most of my clothes, too.

“When we go downtown you have to look your best,” she would tell me. “We don’t want the white folks to think the Walkers don’t know how to carry ourselves.”

Her “carry ourselves” comment was a broad term for how to dress, act, smell, speak and any other behavior that she thought white people might find offensive. I sometimes challenged my grandmother, asking how she knew how white people think, but I would come to know that she was a student of behavior on both sides — white and black. She was protecting me from potential hurt, and all I had to do was look, listen and learn from her.  

She reminded me that as a black woman, I would have to always “be better” — that is, make better grades in school, look better, think better, jump higher, wear good-looking clothes, and sit up or walk straighter than other people.

“Bring attention to yourself for good reasons,” she would tell me.

The expectation from my village to be better never left me when I left home for college, and then went into the work world. It took me a long time to know exactly what “better” meant as compared to white people, but I always knew I  had to strive to meet a higher standard.

Next week: “Time passes, but will you?”

My Women’s History: Eye contact and firm handshakes

My Women’s History: Eye contact and firm handshakes

In March for Women’s History Month I am presenting weekly blog posts about accomplishments and lessons from women in my village. These are excerpts from my upcoming memoir Coming Full Circle: Jim Crow to Journalism.

IMG_3890
My mother, Gloria Walker, in her retirement years.

 

My mother, Gloria Walker, began her career working in retail sales at Camp Stewart (later Fort Stewart), a Georgia military base about an hour from Savannah. Camp Stewart was established in 1940 as an anti-aircraft artillery training center. 

Somehow she must have survived what must have been a mass layoff of employees after the war. She  transferred to Fort Dix in New Jersey. I was left behind with my grandmother in Savannah.

Gloria’s professional story is one of a meteoric rise through the ranks of retail sales and merchandising. After Fort Dix, her next step was to New York City to work in the headquarters of the Army and Air Force Exchange Service (AAFES). With the ultimate  title of senior executive buyer, she was one of very few African American women executives in AAFES. 

Gloria’s categories of buying ranged from automobile parts and accessories, women’s apparel, luggage to watches. But the area she most enjoyed was as a toy buyer. She often regaled  me with stories of traveling  on buying trips to toy company headquarters and factories. One year she flew me to New York and managed to slip me onto the toy fair floor with her credentials. She wanted me to see how she worked such a large and important event with thousands of people buying and selling toys, going from station to station introducing herself, shaking hands, asking questions and making appointments for future discussions with those companies that had products she would ultimately consider for her PX buys.

These were lessons I would carry with me throughout my work life as I made my own way through professional and personal relationships. Firm handshakes, looking people in the eye, doing enough homework in advance to ask the right questions. My mother never had to tell me how to do these things. Yet she constantly showed me how she did them.

Next week: Meeting a higher standard

My Black History: Lady Bird Johnson and my grandmother’s mirror

My Black History: Lady Bird Johnson and my grandmother’s mirror

Throughout February 2019, I posted brief excerpts from my upcoming memoir, “Coming Full Circle — From Jim Crow to Journalism.” This is my final post for the month.

My membership in the American Society of Newspaper Editors (ASNE) and my advocacy for media diversity opened a lot of doors for me. Working on committees and networking with other top editors led to me serve as a juror for the Pulitzer Prize four times, membership on the Accrediting Committee of the Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (ACEJMC), appearing a few times on CNN’s Reliable Sources and co-editing  a book on women in journalism.

IMG_2062
My grandmother’s silver mirror

I was elected to the board of ASNE, which afforded me the opportunity to travel to places like Minneapolis, Minnesota, Sarasota, Florida,  Portland, Oregon, Colorado Springs, Colorado, and Austin, Texas, for board meetings.

A trip to Austin in 2000 was one of my favorite because ASNE President Rich Oppel, then editor of the Austin-American Statesman, took the board members, committee chairs, our spouses and guests on a bus to the LBJ Ranch, the national historic park in Stonewall, Texas. The ranch was where President Lyndon B. Johnson was born, lived, died and is buried. The president and Lady Bird Johnson donated their private home to the National Park Service but retained lifetime rights to use the home. After President Johnson’s death in 1973, Mrs. Johnson continued to live on the ranch until her death in 2007, when  the property was prepared for public use.

On the day we visited, the first lady’s staff hosted the ASNE group and our guests with a tour of the ranch house and grounds. Then we went for a cookout on the property on the banks of the Pedernales River, where LBJ spent a lot of his boyhood time. My husband and I were seated next to Mrs. Johnson, by that time sight impaired but still with a very sharp mind and a keen memory of her past.

On our tour inside the Johnsons’ house, something most visitors to the ranch don’t get to do, we were able to see that nothing much had changed. It was a modest home with dated furnishings. I even got to see a rotary dial red phone,  the one presidents allegedly use for only the most important and secure calls. I had learned about these red phones in school and I was pleased to know the phones are actually red. 

But it was in Mrs. Johnson’s bedroom that something really caught my eye. I spotted a sterling silver hand mirror on first lady’s dressing table.

“What’s the story with this mirror?” I asked our guide. The embellished heavy silver mirror was exactly like the one my grandmother used every day of her life. I used to watch her as she styled her hair and then she would hold up the mirror and turn around in front of her own dresser mirror to check the back of her head. 

“I’m not sure,” the guide said. “But if you leave your business card with me I can find out and let you know more about the mirror.”

When our group finally went outside and I had a chance to talk to Mrs. Johnson,  I asked her about the silver mirror.

“Oh, I remember where I got it,” she said. “It was a gift from Madame Chiang Kai-Shek,” wife of the former president of the Republic of China.

She sent it to me as a gift” after a visit.

Finally, I had some perspective on my grandmother’s mirror, which I still use to this day.

fullsizeoutput_2762
Wanda Lloyd standing in the shade over Lady Bird Johnson, seated with white hair, on the day editors visited the LBJ Ranch.