Story by Toriana Williams / Contributing Writer
Photo courtesy of the Montgomery Advertiser
Wanda Lloyd, author of Coming Full Circle: From Jim Crow to Journalism, spoke to the students, staff and the general public about her experience as a female, African-American journalist on Monday at Middle Tennessee State University. Alongside her was Debra Fisher, director of the John Seigenthaler Chair of Excellence in First Amendment Studies, and MTSU junior multimedia journalism major, Rihanna Cotton.
Lloyd was born in the era of Jim Crow laws and grew up in Savannah, Georgia, where these laws were brutally enforced. She shared a few of her stories, which range from shocking to downright evil.
Among a few of her stories, she described when she watched her uncle, who suffered from a stroke, be rushed to the hospital in a funeral home hearse because “there were no ambulances for black people,” she stated–only for him to be turned away because he was African-American, and forced to wait in another hospital for several life endangering hours. Lloyd also heard of her grandmother being physically abused by a white, adult male on a train car because it used to be segregated.
She. however, has not allowed growing up under Jim Crow laws to slow her down in any way. In fact, in some cases, it’s even helped her.
“I think having grown up under the system of Jim Crow…It gave me a lot of resentment towards the place I grew up…(However), when I had the ability to direct coverage as an editor, it informed me in a way that helped me understand some of the things many people have gone through. There are some people who let it affect their careers. This does affect a lot of people…if you allow it to happen. If you have bad things happen, you have to find a way to overcome it,” she spoke.
Lloyd also believes that it helped her specifically as a journalist.
“It made me aware of situations that happened to people under Jim Crow so that I was more informed about telling our reporters how to cover those things with empathy, accuracy and with solutions,” she said.
Lloyd was drawn to journalism because of her love for reading and writing that originated in her as a child. Her aunt was a teacher and had received a master’s degree in reading, so according to Lloyd, her aunt had made it her mission to make sure she could read. She grew up in a home with a homemade library, where she would often pluck many books off their shelves and burrow deeply into the different worlds. This way of life led her to eventually become the editor of her high school newspaper, college newspaper and the top editor for several mainstream daily newspapers, such as the nation’s largest-circulation daily newspaper, USA Today. She also became the first african-american woman to receive the executive editor position at the Montgomery Advertiser in Alabama.
Fisher asked Lloyd what drew her to male dominated press and newsrooms, to which she replied, “there were no role models in my community.” So she became her own.
“I had to find a way into journalism, because that was my passion,” Lloyd said. There were times when she was the only woman, the only African-American and the only young person in the room. Still, that did not cause her any grievance. However, Lloyd’s experience as a journalist has not always been smooth sailing.
“I had one breaking point…I woke up to…nasty, racial comments from a gentleman who accused me of turning our newspaper into an ‘n-word’ newspaper, because we had so many…positive stories about black people,” she said.
This man had sent said comments in an email to all the African-Americans who worked at the newspaper and other journalists as well.
“Everybody knew that this was on my mind…I kind of did have a melt down in the building.”
Being the strong, unstoppable woman that she is, Lloyd left the building, collected herself and returned to work just mere hours later.
“As an African-American and as a woman, you have to look better, be better…jump higher, be smarter than everyone else,” she said. “Your standards have to be different because there are expectations that you’re not as good as everyone else.”
Lloyd ended the panel by reading an excerpt from her book detailing her experiences with sexual harassment in the workforce.
“In an era where women working in professional environments usually wore dresses or skirts, the nature of the composing room required me to wear pants every night. I spent a good part of my shift bending over the chases and looking up at compositors…I could not touch the type…but I had to get close enough to the men working on those pages to point out where changes had to be made,” she wrote. “A few times I would recognize the intentional close brush of my behind by some man passing me, or I heard men making disparaging comments not about me but about women’s physical assets in general…One some nights, I felt like I was on a busy street walking through the raucous catcalls of construction workers.”
“I never reported the uncomfortable conversations or the physical brushes..I never let on that I had to be mindful of what I wore, where I stood and how I reacted to bad boy behavior.” Lloyd felt as if she had to keep her interactions professional in order to progress in her career.
“I wrote about this experience because it was my first time being affected by what we later got to know as sexual harassment,” she said.
Her time and experience gives us a frank and impactful glimpse into the difficulty of being a female African-American journalist, in the workplace and in life.
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