Pioneering journalist Ethel Lois Payne used her skills as the Washington correspondent for the Chicago Defender to elevate civil rights issues to the national agenda in the 1950s and 60s. She publicly prodded President Dwight D. Eisenhower to support desegregation, and her reporting on legislative and judicial civil rights battles enlightened and motivated black readers. At considerable personal risk, she covered events such as the Montgomery bus boycott, the desegregation of the University of Alabama, and the Little Rock school crisis. Moreover, she traveled overseas to write about the service of black troops in Vietnam. President Lyndon B. Johnson recognized Payne’s pivotal role by presenting her with pens used in signing the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act. As a trailblazing black woman in an industry dominated by white men, she capped her career by becoming the first female African American radio and television commentator on a national network, working for CBS.
Speaker: James McGrath Morris
Morris earned his bachelor’s degree from American University and his master’s from George Washington University. He has written extensively for newspapers and magazines, as well as academic journals -- and is the author of acclaimed biographies and narrative non-fiction. Prior to becoming a full-time writer, Morris spent a decade as a journalist, a decade working in the book and magazine business, and a decade as a high school teacher. He is the former president of Biographers International Organization, of which he was among the original founders. Great Lives “regulars” will fondly recall his superb 2011 presentation on Joseph Pulitzer, based on his prize-winning book Pulitzer: A Life in Politics, Print, and Power.