Dash inducted into founders hall of fame
Leon Dash, professor of journalism in the College of Media, was inducted into the National Association of Black Journalists Founders Hall of Fame on August 5 during the 2016 NABJ national convention.
Dash, along with 43 other journalists, founded NABJ in 1975, in part to address the lack of black journalists working in newspapers and broadcast media. Many of the founders were the first or second black journalists hired by their media outlets.
The significance of the founding of NABJ must be considered in the context of the time.
Dash began working at The Washington Post as an intern in November of 1965 while a student at Howard University. He worked the newsroom lobster shift – 6:30 p.m. to 2:30 a.m. – and attended classes during the day. In June of the following year, he became a general assignment City Desk reporter while still a student at Howard. He was the second black reporter to cover Washington’s Metropolitan Police Department for The Post.
The passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the August 1965 Voting Rights Act helped set the stage for the election of many blacks to various state and local offices, especially in the South.
The Post newsroom was not immune from the racial unrest in the country. Dash was one of seven black reporters at The Post who filed an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint against the paper in 1972. The group became known as ‘The Metro Seven.’
The complaint charged the newspaper with "denying Black employees an equal opportunity with respect to job assignments, promotional opportunities, including promotions to management positions and other terms and conditions of employment."
The complaint also encouraged others to file similar actions including suits by female staffers at The Post and the New York Times.
While conversation about starting NABJ had been underway for a number of years, the group was able to complete the effort in Washington, D. C. during a December 1975 meeting of the former National Association of Black Elected Officials. Black reporters from all over the country were sent to cover the event and met at the same time to create the organization.
The Metro Seven from left: Michael B. Hodge, Ivan C. Brandon, LaBarbara Bowman, Leon Dash, Penny Mickelbury, Ronald A. Taylor; Richard Prince and attorney Clifford Alexander at March 23, 1972, news conference. (Credit: Ellsworth Davis/Washington Post)
Leon Dash worked at The Washington Post from 1965 to 1998. During his three decades at The Post he was a general assignment reporter; worked the City Desk and the Maryland Desk; served as West Africa Bureau Chief; covered the U. S. State Department for the Foreign Desk and was an investigative reporter on the Projects Desk. He left The Post to join the University of Illinois as a professor of journalism.
Several times during his time at The Post, he took a leave of absence to work on other projects. He served with the Peace Corps as a teacher in Kenya. Twice he traveled into Angola to live with the guerrillas of the National Movement for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA), the second time at the early stages of African nation’s bitter civil war.
In 1995 Dash was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Journalism for The Washington Post series “Rosa Lee: Poverty and Survival in Washington.” Other honors include a George Polk Award, an Emmy from the NATAS Washington D.C. chapter, and Robert F. Kennedy Book and Journalism awards.
At the University of Illinois, Dash is a Swanlund Chair professor in Journalism. In 2003 he was appointed a permanent faculty member of the Center of Advance Study where he served as interim director for the ’06-’07 academic year and director from 2009-2014. He also serves as an advisor for the Illinois student chapter of the NABJ, where he continues to support the education and advancement of black journalists.
Dash in his office, Oct. 2016.