Over the span of her storied journalism career, Gwen Ifill secured a reputation for upholding the principles of her profession, taking public figures to task and opening doors for future female reporters of color who would follow in her footsteps.
That’s why, during a celebratory unveiling of the U.S. Postal Service’s (USPS) Gwen Ifill Forever Stamp, Ifill’s friends, family members and colleagues debated how she might respond, if still alive, to the Trump administration’s marginalization of journalists, particularly Black and female reporters who, like her, did not shy away from the difficult questions.
“We all know that Gwen would be using her voice and platform to uphold these important things right now. She would have something to say about the press being cordoned off while trying to cover the impeachment trial,” said Michele Norris, a veteran radio journalist who served as mistress of ceremonies during a dedication ceremony for the 43rd stamp in the USPS Black Heritage Series.
“[Gwen] was just 61 when she died in 2016, and the term ‘fake news’ was just being injected into the American vernacular,” Norris said. “She would’ve stomped that out with dignity and facts. She was the voice of calm and integrity and spoke out when she thought the journalism industry was going in the wrong direction.”
Ifill joins Harriet Tubman, Ella Baker, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Marvin Gaye, Bessie Coleman, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Anna Julia Cooper, and several other Black historical figures honored in the Black Heritage Series.
During the recent ceremony, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) declared Jan. 30 “Gwen Ifill Day.”
The two-hour dedication held at Ifill’s spiritual home, Metropolitan AME Church in Northwest, attracted hundreds of people, including former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, U.S. Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill. 7th District), U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wis. 4th District) and other elected officials along with a bevy of veteran journalists who, with Ifill, used the National Association of Black Journalists as a vehicle to diversify mainstream newsrooms across the country.
Throughout her career, cut short upon her untimely death on November 14, 2016 and which occurred shortly after the election of President Donald J. Trump, Ifill made historic strides within the journalism industry. Months earlier, she and Judy Woodruff, her co-anchor and co-managing editor on PBS NewsHour, broke new ground as the first female duo to moderate a Democratic presidential debate. That milestone followed several others, since her graduation from Simmons College in 1977, including her becoming the first Black woman to host a nationally-televised political talk show in 1999.
As the Rev. William H. Lamar IV, pastor of Metropolitan AME Church, told those attending the ceremony, the achievements and accolades which Ifill, the child of an AME minister, garnered never deterred her from embracing her roots. Nor did her many successes cause her to forget the overt racism she often experienced early in her career.
“Gwen didn’t accept the tantalizing offer to graduate from her blackness. She found gifted, talented Black women and opened doors for them that she had to kick down,” Lamar said.
“She sat here Sunday after Sunday with no entourage, lending her power. She radiated with the Black dignity and beauty of our grandmothers and grandfathers when she moderated a press debate and signed off on Washington Weekly. She owed a debt of excellence and paid it in full.”