Author: James McGrath Morris
Summary: A nuanced, engaging portrayal of an amazing woman!
Ethel Payne was an incredible woman. She served as a journalist for one of the most influential papers of the civil rights era. She covered events including “the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the Little Rock school desegregation crisis, the service of black troops in Vietnam, and Henry Kissinger’s 26,000-mile tour of Africa.” (source) She also helped run a social club at a military base in Japan; took leadership roles in civil rights organizations; and met every president from some time in the 60’s through the 80’s.
Ethel Payne led an impressive and varied life. Her accomplishments would be impressive in any era, but are even more so given the sexism and racism she faced at the time. That’s enough to make this an important read, but not necessarily an enjoyable one. Fortunately, the author did this great story justice by writing an engaging and enjoyable narrative. He used quotes extremely effectively to tell much of the story in Ethel’s own words. And you can tell why she succeeded as a journalist – her words brought her story vividly to life.
Although the author clearly admired Ethel and left me admiring her too, he still managed to present a nuanced portrayal of her life. Her agreements and disagreements with civil rights leaders were particularly interesting. She also chose to mix activism with journalism because that was what she believed was the ethical decision. This question of a journalist’s responsibilities to uphold both professional obligations and human rights struck me as still very relevant today.
I read this book for Platypire’s Diversity Challenge.