The crowd of journalists stood waiting, nervous, for President Dwight Eisenhower to answer Ethel Payne. She had asked him about the administration’s commitment to Civil Rights legislation. Would he answer truthfully? Deflect? Ignore her?
As the first Black woman admitted into white press circles and to be a national commentator, Payne never minced her words. She was the first Black woman to cover news internationally and one of the best journalists in the field.
But there was something even more important about her.
She wrote what she witnessed fearlessly. In the face of the rising Civil Rights movement, her view of events was CRUCIAL to reporting the truth about the Movement. And that wasn’t all.
Her Blackness put her in danger of being killed when covering these stories, too. Yet here she was again, awaiting an answer about civil rights from the most powerful politician in the world. Of course, Eisenhower did what any racist politician like him would do.
He barked at her disrespectfully, and started a smear campaign against her. Regardless, her poise and determination - and his bitter response - still showed others exactly where this country was on Civil Rights.
And now as it was back then, we can't be afraid to go where others won’t. Freedom demands Payne-like determination and courage!