Dorothy Gilliam overcame a major barrier at The Washington Post newspaper by becoming the popular publication’s first Black female reporter. Ms. Gilliam continues to advocate for balance in journalism in her post-retirement career and is a living legend of her field.
Gilliam was born November 24, 1936 in Memphis, Tenn. She discovered her love of journalism while as a student in Ursuline University in Ohio. She then transferred to Lincoln University in Missouri and obtained her bachelor’s in journalism. For a short time, Gilliam worked as an associate editor for Jet magazine before entering Tuskegee University and then getting accepted to Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism.
The Washington Post assigned Gilliam to its City Desk section in 1961, one of three Black reporters among the hundreds that worked for the Post. While Gilliam understands the significance of her accomplishment now, she’s shared in several interviews that her job was painful and alienating early on due to the racist politics of the city and the newsroom at the time.
Despite this, Gilliam preserved and became a fixture at the paper. For over three decades, she worked as a reporter and columnist for the Post and was a staunch advocate for racial equality in her field. One of her most notable actions as a so-called journalism activist was staging protests at the New York Daily News after it fired a large number of its Black staff writers.
After retirement, Gilliam created a program for aspiring young Black journalists and was a fellow for the George Washington University School of Media and Public Affairs. She also served as the National Association of Black Journalists president from 1993 to 1995. In 2010, The Washington Press Club gave Gilliam its Lifetime Achievement Award.
Today, Gilliam serves a public speaker that still champions the need for diversity in the news. Dorothy was once married to acclaimed artist Sam Gilliam, with whom she has three daughters.