By Arielle Johnson
It is wonderful when you have an opportunity to chat with an oral historian who knew a lot of Dallas’ movers and shakers prior to and during the Civil Rights movement. On Wednesday, July 27, 2017, we spoke with Norma Adams-Wade, a retired Dallas Morning News columnist, who still writes for the paper as a contributing columnist, and listened at intently, as she spoke fondly of Julia Scott-Reed.
Mrs. Adams-Wade credits Julia Scott-Reed with inspiring her to choose a career as a journalist. She was only in the 4th grade, when Julia Scott-Reed came to her school, H.S. Thompson Elementary and addressed the students as a special guest speaker. The students kept their eyes fastened on Mrs. Reed as she spoke, and the more she spoke, the more the young Norma Adams was convinced she too could be a great writer and make a difference in her community. Prior to Mrs. Reed coming to her school to speak, she did not know a woman could write for the paper; especially a Black woman.
When it came time to select a college, Mrs. Adams-Wade’s family was shocked and appalled by her decision to pursue a career in journalism, instead of following in the footsteps of her older sister who majored in music. This caused a lot of tension in the family, but Mrs. Adams-Wade had already made her mind up nearly a decade earlier. Everything she did from the moment she heard Mrs. Reed speak, was centered around becoming a better writer and being an avid reader.
We cannot begin to share a brief history with anyone about Julia Scott-Reed, without first putting this story in its proper historical context. We are talking about our town in the1950s and 1960s. Racism was ingrained in every aspect of our African-American lives here in Dallas, Texas. We were separate, but never equal. Even our public schools were challenged with accommodating more students than they had staff to educate and facilities to house. Because Booker T. Washington was the only high school African-American students could attend, instead of students attending school for a full day, education was only available for half of the day.
The Dallas Morning News courted Julia Scott-Reed in 1967, with the idea of coming on board as a Community News writer. Mrs. Scott-Reed was already a prominent woman, making an impact within her community and other African-American communities across the country. Some of the many hats she wore involved political activism, civil rights and women’s rights. Julia Scott-Reed was also a writer at the Dallas Express, which was a local African-American newspaper. Because of her reluctance to join the paper, she made sure each and every concern she had about becoming a member of the staff, was addressed before she accepted the role as a staff member of the Dallas Morning News. President Lyndon B. Johnson had already signed the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act, however, physical action had to be taken to force those in power and accustomed to having limitless power, due to the whiteness of their skin, to respect the law. Hence the Kerner Commission was created by President Johnson to address the wave of violence erupting all around the nation.
Julia Scott-Reed created a column called, “The Open Line”, which was exactly what is sounds like – an open line of communication between the African-American community and White America. Prior to her agreeing to join the Dallas Morning News, the only types of articles written about African-Americans, consisted of reporting crimes committed by them. When Mrs. Scott-Reed started contributing to the paper, she used her position to help shape a more positive image of African-Americans, by highlighting their achievements and charting our progress.
Imagine what it was like to see positive images in the paper and stories written about African-Americans. It was powerful. This movement of having African-Americans tell their own stories, and being given a platform fromwhich to speak, was an extremely pivotal move on the part of our society. It was so life changing, Norma Adams knew it would be the perfect opportunity to enhance the makeup of the Dallas Morning News by joining their writing team. However, to her dismay, when she so triumphantly marched down to the Dallas Morning News to apply for a job, she got a reality check instead of a bunch of congratulatory hand shakes and nods from the staff. There she was, the one and only, Mrs. Julia Scott-Reed who was sitting at the head of the conference room table during a staff meeting. Unfortunately, she had to tame the enthusiasm of Norma Adams, and let her know in a private conversation, everything was not all it appeared to be, but in an encouraging tone.
Because we often wonder what Mrs. Scott-Reed would have to say about Journalism and the reporting of African-Americans stories, by African-Americans in America today, we had to ask our oral historian. Mrs. Norma Scott-Reed told us, if Julia Scott-Reed were still alive, she would want our African-American journalists to be gutsy and refrain from groveling and get on board with the crusading. She would also want them to recognize their position in terms of making it financially beneficial for advertisers to court our communities African-American dollars through our writings; dollars which in turn could be used for the advancement of our communities.
If Julia Scott-Reed were still alive today, she would have be 100 years old. Please help keep her memory alive by learning more about her. If you are a writer, and you are not meeting the challenge of challenging the inequities in our society, please reevaluate your roles and goals. We cannot continue to allow the threat of losing corporate dollars to control the way we approach our news reporting. Also, if we wish to see significant improvements in the administration of our Democratic government, we must challenge our public officials to meet the requirements of their positions.
To learn more about this great woman’s legacy, visit the Julia Scott Reed Community Foundation page on Facebook, then email Mrs. Scott-Reed’s daughter, Gayle Eubanks-Coleman at email@example.com