Eye On the Struggle by James McGrath Morris
Ethel Lois Payne has gone as an unheralded figure of importance from the civil rights era, hidden in the shadows of the movement’s history—until now. James McGrath Morris skillfully paints the picture of this ambitious woman’s life, from a childhood growing up in South Chicago to a journalist pressing questions of racial policy to President Eisenhower. When Payne became the Washington Correspondent for the Chicago Defender, she was only the third African American in history to be granted a press pass by the White House.
In her time as a journalist, Ethel Payne covered such evocative civil rights moments as the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the desegregation of the University of Alabama. When CBS hired her in 1972, Payne became the first female African American radio and television commentator on a national network. She traveled to Vietnam to report on African American troops, and accompanied Henry Kissinger on his 26,000-mile tour of Africa. On July 2, 1964, when President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act into effect, Ethel Payne acted as a witness to the historic event. Morris brilliantly captures her, not only her work and influence, but also the lively stories that charmingly evoke her, like the time that Ethel, panicked and penniless, had to convince a store to loan her furniture for her apartment, all because Richard Nixon and his wife unexpectedly accepted a party invitation.
A few years before her death, Payne told an interviewer, “I, as part of [the black] press, can’t afford the luxury of being unbiased and objective when it comes to issues that really affect my people, and I plead guilty, because I think that I am an instrument of change.” Morris’s moving and comprehensive biography of this extraordinary woman is sure to become another instrument of change.