(Photo: AP Photo/The Washington Post, Julia Ewan)
William Raspberry, a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for The Washington Post, who was one of the first Black columnists to have a nationwide following, died Tuesday of prostate cancer at age 76. He was a consistent presence in the world of newspaper columnists for nearly four decades prior to his retirement in 2005.
In a journalistic world that would eventually gain a number of liberal Black columnists, Raspberry was particularly notable for taking a more moderate approach on a number of subjects. Over the years, he wrote about virtually every social issue to affect the nation, largely in a way that reflected his upbringing in Mississippi in the 1940s and 1950s.
He was a voice of calm reason, perhaps an outgrowth of his Episcopal background. At one point in his career, he stopped making appearances on television news talk shows featuring political pundits, pointing out that “they force you to pretend to be mad even when you’re not.”
In addition to his work at the Post, Raspberry was the Knight Professor of the Practice of Communications and Journalism at the Sanford Institute of Public Policy at Duke University. In 1999, Raspberry received the Elijah Parish Lovejoy Award as well as an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Colby College.
Raspberry was born in the Northeastern Mississippi town of Okolona. After earning a bachelor’s degree in history at the University of Indianapolis in 1958, Raspberry served as a public information officer with the U.S. Army from 1960 to 1962. He also worked for the Indianapolis Recorder in 1956.
He later joined the staff of The Washington Post as a teletypist in 1962. Raspberry quickly rose in the ranks of the paper, becoming a columnist in 1966. He was first nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in 1982, and won the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary in 1994.
“His thought-provoking columns on social and political issues inspired readers to seek out truth, and to seek change where they saw inequity and injustice," said Gregory Lee Jr., the president of the National Association of Black Journalists and a former Post colleague.
"He blazed a trail for many Black journalists who followed him at The Post, and as a professor, inspired those who will help lead us tomorrow,” Lee said. “His legacy should inspire us all.”
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