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Date of Award


Access Type

Campus Access

Document type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program

Afro-American Studies

First Advisor

John H. Bracey

Second Advisor

Steven C. Tracy

Third Advisor

Nicholas McBride

Subject Categories

African American Studies | American Studies | Legal Biography | United States History


During the second half of the twentieth century, Ethel Lois Payne emerged as one of the most notable African American journalists in the country. She was best known as the First Lady of the Black Press , and wrote for theChicago Defender from 1951 to 1978. Her columns were syndicated in dozens of black newspapers across the country. The granddaughter of slaves and the daughter of a Pullman porter, Payne rose to become the nation's preeminent black female reporter of the civil rights era, chronicling the movement's seminal moments for a national black readership hungry for stories that could not be found in the white media. From publicly challenging President Dwight D. Eisenhower's commitment to desegregation in the 1950s, to capturing the lives of black troops in Vietnam in the 1960s, she became known simply as a forceful defender of black civil rights, a vocal critic of colonialism in Africa and Asia and a fierce opponent of American militarism during the Vietnam War. This study examines the intersection between Payne's role as a journalist and her political stances on civil rights and other issues of social justice. More importantly, this dissertation positions Payne as an important strategist who saw journalism as a vehicle to expose racial injustice, particularly during the turbulent 1950s and 1960s. She remained true to the mission of the black press dating back to 1827 with the publication ofFreedom's Journal .