‘If you ever get another newsroom, call me’

‘If you ever get another newsroom, call me’

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Terry Manning

On August 9, 2019, the day I was inducted into the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) Hall of Fame, my friend and former colleague Terry Manning wrote perhaps the nicest and certainly the most extensive tribute about my career and our professional relationship. It is, of course, also a good piece of writing.

Terry is more than a colleague. He is a friend, someone who has supported me in several of my leadership roles, someone who took leaps of faith and accepted my invitation to work with me in three states, a news man who allowed me to stretch his skills and who never said no to the opportunities I put in his path. He has always had my back and, hopefully, I always had his.

On the morning of my NABJ induction, Terry posted this on Facebook. It is likely the longest Facebook post I have ever read, and it took me about three days to get through it (partly because I was busy at the NABJ conference and partly because his words were so emotional that each paragraph brought tears to my eyes).

If you ever have an opportunity to build a professional relationship like the one between Terry Manning and me, you will be one lucky person in life.

With his permission, here is Terry’s August 9, post:

“Soon after lunchtime today, the National Association of Black Journalists will welcome a special person into its Hall of Fame: Wanda S. Lloyd. She is a former boss of mine. A mentor. A counselor. My mother says she is my guardian angel (if so, she likely earned her wings putting up with my nonsense).

“I remember meeting Wanda in … wow, early 2000? She showed me around Greenville, South Carolina, while I was there interviewing for a job on the copy desk of their morning newspaper. I had already accepted a similar job at the Arizona Republic, but Gannett, the owner of the newspaper I worked for, ‘didn’t want to lose me’ (those were the days when newspapers actually said things like that.)

“Wanda took me out to dinner at a Thai place on Main Street. She was friendly, funny, smart — and she was black. Most of the ‘respectable’ black folks I had seen growing up were educators or preachers. Meeting Wanda was a revelation. She told me of working at USA Today and The Washington Post, but it was a while later before I learned she was at USA Today near the BEGINNING. That she was a pioneering black employee in the Washington Post newsroom. I’d worked for the Gannett paper in Pensacola, but I’d never had a black boss, and here was one right in front of me. I took the job.

“She was a good boss, easy to get along with and supportive of the careers of the paper’s black employees. She never coddled us, though. We had to produce. Newspapers don’t make themselves.

“When she announced a short while later that she was leaving, I walked into her office and said, ‘Well, Moses, what are your Israelite chilllun supposed to do NOW?’ But I couldn’t be upset with her. I’d seen the sideways glances exchanged between the other editors sometimes when she would ask questions during news meetings. There were times I struggled to keep from speaking in her defense, voicing my distaste at their smug superiority, even as she asked questions that others likely had but were afraid to voice. It irritated me. She never seemed to notice, but in time I learned that Wanda doesn’t miss much. Maybe that was just her grace in action, but that wasn’t why she was leaving.

“She was leaving because she had been offered a fantastic opportunity to lead the Diversity Institute at the Freedom Forum in Nashville, Tenn. The institute, on the campus of Vanderbilt University, was set up to help people of color on less-inspiring career paths transition into journalism jobs. When I visited once for a seminar, she gave me a private tour of the building, pointing out the training areas, the lecture rooms that would feature world-renowned experts, the multimedia technology she wanted to populate around the facility. It sounded like something out of The Jetsons, but it made clear to me that she was a person with a vision. A builder.

“Before I left I told her, ‘If you ever get another newsroom, call me.’ And she did.

“I worked for and with her in Montgomery. I learned a lot by watching her every day, handling penny-pinching bosses, irate readers, stubborn subordinates, and critics both internal and external. Everyone was given a fair hearing to express their views in her office. She seemed to embody the command, ‘If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.’ She was a real leader to the newsroom, and I watched her become a leader outside the newsroom as well.

“To my eyes, the black community in Montgomery seemed a little wary of her at first. Was she a token black editor sent to appease concerns about representation in that Southern city? Or was she ‘down?’? Was she a ‘REAL’ black woman who could appreciate the lives they lived and the challenges they faced? Did she know Montgomery’s conflicted history and was she respectful of it? Was she one of ‘them’ or was she one of ‘US?’ I can’t speak for Montgomery’s collective black community, but under her leadership the newspaper produced amazing coverage of the anniversary of the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the death of Rosa Parks. She gave voice to local leadership in ways I’m not sure they had enjoyed previously. The ‘Voices of the Boycott’ package the newspaper created is still the best thing I ever worked on.

“But a few years later she left the newspaper business again; she was ‘retiring.’ I use quotes because I’m not sure I ever bought into the idea of someone so driven and productive as Wanda being able to retire completely, and because shortly thereafter she proved my skepticism was justified by announcing she had taken a position as chair of the Department of Journalism and Mass Communications at Savannah State University. She called and asked if I wanted a job in the department, and I accepted.

“I got to see her do her thing in an entirely different realm. Academia is as strange and misunderstood to people who’ve never worked in it as I’m sure journalism would seem to most people. But Wanda Lloyd was still Wanda Lloyd. And she was a great chair. Inspirational, even.

“I know what Wanda has meant to me since I’ve known her, and I have learned she means that much and more to a lot of people who were or are still in journalism and even people outside the field: A champion of diversity of all types. An advocate for excellence in all things. A standard setter. A role model.

“To me, she is a friend.

“And I couldn’t be happier as today my friend is being inducted into the National Association of Black Journalists Hall of Fame.”

 

 

 

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.

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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