Academic journal article Journalism History

"We Tell the Stories of the People": Toki Schalk Johnson and Hazel Garland Integrating White Spaces While Representing Black Voices

Academic journal article Journalism History

"We Tell the Stories of the People": Toki Schalk Johnson and Hazel Garland Integrating White Spaces While Representing Black Voices

Article excerpt

In April 1970, the Women's Press Club of Pittsburgh (WPCP) held an "Old Nostalgia Night" to celebrate the club's older members. A younger member complained loudly, saying, "Oh Lord, not one of those, with old biddies and all that stuff." In response, longtime member Dorothy Kantner "exploded" and said, approximately, "Without those 'old biddies' all of us would be struggling along. They are the survivors. We're the beneficiaries of their struggles."1 Kantner's claim that the so-called "old biddies" were survivors couldn't have been more true than in the case of the club's first black members, including Toki Schalk Johnson, who persisted for twelve years before the club finally admitted her, and Hazel Garland, the first woman to take a general management position at the Pittsburgh Courier. The 1960s and 1970s were decades of upheaval and recovery in the United States, and the external struggles that faced the entire nation were reflected within the WPCP membership. The country's new focus on what Todd Gitlin termed "the counterculture of the young" rather than wisdom gained through age and experience was reflected in a change in membership, which had slowly transitioned from most of the presswomen in the city to a membership dominated by women working on the remaining society and women's pages.2 By the 1970s, WPCP former President Georgianne Williams said, many women were choosing to join the integrated "men's" Pittsburgh Press Club rather than the Women's Press Club.3

Despite the negative changes, the WPCP was still achieving significant victories. In 1961, the club finally accepted Johnson, the club's first black member, after having blackballed4 her application twelve years earlier. The club kept the application alive nonetheless. After the conflict that her original application raised within the membership, her final acceptance was passed with surprisingly little notice. It was notated in the very last line of the June 27, 1961, meeting minutes that "Toki Johnson of the Courier, whose application is the oldest on record, was voted in as an associate member."'' Ann Zurosky wrote in her record of the club's first 100 years that "a few sharp notes were exchanged between some members, but they amounted to nothing in the final vote."6 Johnson's presence was not just significant to the press club, however. Her presence at the club's annual dinner forced the integration of the prestigious Duquesne Club,7 and she brought in other strong, black women, including Hazel Garland, the first woman editor in chief of the Pittsburgh Courier, the United States' largest nationally circulating newspaper for black Americans.8

This article seeks to answer the question, "How did black newswomen use their writing to negotiate their identities as raced community leaders, leaders within the WPCP, and members of the broader womens movement?" By accepting black members, WPCP members showed their own respect for their colleagues who were black by embracing them as leaders within the organization. However, the club's black membership was always a minority. As will be explored, the women knew they might never be fully accepted into the WPCP, even as they took on leadership roles in the organization. As leading voices on one of the nation's largest nationally circulating black presses, Garland's and Johnson's persistence in fighting for admittance to the WPCP and presence in the club served as an example to other groups and black women journalists. Historically, Pittsburgh had produced some of the nation's leading newswomen, including Nellie Bly, Jane Grey Swisshelm, and Ida Tarbell. Johnson and Garland were part of that tradition of strong women journalists, finding spaces for themselves and other black newswomen.

As journalists, black women were not struggling with the impartial voice that marked most American journalists' rhetoric at the time. They were fully immersed in the struggle for equality, and their work reflects this struggle. …

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