Dorothy Butler Gilliam, whose 50-year-career as a journalist put her in the forefront of the fight for social justice, offers a comprehensive view of racial relations and the media in the U.S. in her new memoir.
While much of this book is concerned with historical events, [Gilliam’s] personal experience burns at its core. Gilliam’s own story, her interiority, lights up the page. Her descriptions of growing up—as a preacher’s daughter and the eighth child of 10, suffering through her father’s illness and death, developing an eating disorder and living without indoor plumbing—are all riveting ... One only wishes Gilliam gave herself permission to write more about the price of her ascent—the challenges of marriage and divorce, her husband’s mental illness and infidelity and the colorism she and her daughters faced. Regardless, a trailblazer she is and a trailblazer she always will be. This book is testament to that.
Eye-opening ... In brisk, vigorous, precise prose honed over decades of daily newspaper work, Gilliam paints a vivid portrait of the obstacles she faced as a black woman breaking multiple barriers in a white- and male-dominated newsroom, and her persistent efforts to reshape that workplace and its perspective on a black community whose existence it barely recognized ... continues essential work, at a time when a press that’s accurate, accountable, and responsive to the readers it serves—rather than the anti-journalist powers that would attack, restrain, or co-opt it—is more vital than ever.
Beyond her journalistic slights and successes, Gilliam charts watershed civil rights moments ... as a chronicle of black history and advancement, Trailblazer is potent. As a memoir, less so. Gilliam seems reluctant to unshroud her intimate memories and emotions. Perhaps this is a function of her trade. Journalists are trained to report a story, rather than inhabit it, and to focus on facts, not feelings ... In the chapter on her 20-year marriage to artist Sam Gilliam, we only scratch the surface of their troubled relationship.