Ethel L. Payne Collection consists of objects which highlight Payne’s career as an award-winning journalist, White House correspondent, and social activist. Most of the objects date from the 1950s through the 1980s; and document political campaigns throughout the United States, and human rights events and organizations throughout the world.
Buttons and pins, which make up a significant portion of the collection, include images of or related to the political campaigns of Jimmy Carter, Geraldine Ferraro, Hubert H. Humphrey, Jesse Jackson, Lyndon B. Johnson, John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, and Harold Washington; human rights organizations including Africare, Coyote (Call Off Your Old Tired Ethics), and Delta Sigma Theta Sorority; and political events involving the Coalition of 100 Black Women, the MPR (Popular Movement of the Revolution, Republic of Zaire), PATCO (Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization), and the Poor People’s Campaign among others.
The collection also includes membership cards; medals of honor; press medals; and press passes for Democratic and Republican National Conventions, inaugural events, and domestic and foreign conferences, including the 1955 Asian-African conference in Indonesia and the 1980 World Conference of the United Nations Decade for Women.
Other notable objects in the collection include the pens used by President Lyndon B. Johnson to sign the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965; a collage of photographs, news articles, and invitations highlighting Payne’s career, particularly the Metropolitan Women’s Democratic Club (MWDC); and a portrait of Ethel Payne dated 1986. Additionally, a dashiki and a couple of hats are a part of the collection.
A related archival collection – Ethel Payne papers, circa 1960s-1980s– which measures .27 linear feet and consists of passports, badges, photographs, press credentials, awards and ephemera is available in the Archives at the Anacostia Community Museum. Contact the Archivist for more information.
Ethel L. Payne was an award-winning journalist, White House correspondent, and social activist. Born in Chicago on August 11, 1911 to William and Bessie Austin Payne, she was the fifth of six siblings. Payne attended Crane Junior College (Chicago), Garret Institute (Evanston, Illinois), and the Medill School of Journalism (Northwestern University, Chicago).
While working as a hostess at an Army Special Services club in Tokyo, Japan, Payne kept a diary detailing the experiences of African American soldiers. Her entries caught the attention of a Chicago Defender reporter. With Payne’s permission, the reporter took her diary back to the United States. Before long, the Chicago Defender’s front page stories contained Payne’s observations.
Impressed with Payne’s ability, the Chicago Defender’s editor-in-chief offered Payne a job as a feature writer when she returned to the United States in 1951. Two years later, Payne moved to Washington, D.C. as a White House Correspondent. In her reporting, Payne covered the 1955 Asian-African Conference in Indonesia, the White House, Washington politics, presidential conventions, the Vietnam War, the Nigerian Civil War, the Civil Rights Movement, International Women’s Year Conferences, and events in nearly every major country in the world. She interviewed heads of state on six continents, witnessed President Johnson’s signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and traveled to South Africa for an exclusive interview with Winnie and Nelson Mandela.
Payne’s professional career included employment with the AFL-CIO, the Democratic National Committee, Sengstacke Publications, CBS News, and the Afro-American Newspapers. She was a visiting professor of journalism at Fisk University in Tennessee and writer-in-residence at Jackson State University in Mississippi.
In addition to her reporting, Payne was activist, particularly of human rights. While in Chicago, she obtained funds and organized volunteers to launch an anti-crime movement. In 1985, Payne became a member of Africare’s board of directors. Africare works to improve the quality of life of the people in Africa. Payne was also an active member of NAACP, Transafrica Forum, the Capitol Press Club, and the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority. Additionally, she was a founder and lifetime member of the Metropolitan Women’s Democratic Club (MWDC) of Washington, D.C.
Payne received numerous awards and honors, including the title “first Lady of the black press,” for her work as a journalist and activist. She died on May 28, 1991 of a heart attack in Washington, D.C.
Avis Ruth Johnson was born Avis Ruth Payne on February 4, 1918. Johnson served as executor of her sister’s, Ethel L. Payne’s, estate. Johnson passed peacefully in her sleep on April 9, 2005 in El Cajon, California.
Eldridge, Lawrence Allen. 2011. Chronicles of a two-front war civil rights and Vietnam in the African American press. Columbia [Mo.]: University of Missouri Press.
Morris, James McGrath. 2015. Eye on the struggle: Ethel Payne, the first lady of the Black Press.
Payne, Ethel L. 1979. America's Black colleges: roots, rewards, renewal. [Washington, D.C.?]: Delta Sigma Theta.
Reynolds, Barbara A. 1988. And still we rise: interviews with 50 black role models. Washington, D.C.: USA Today Books.
Ritchie, Donald A. 1997. American journalists getting the story. New York: Oxford University Press.
Ritchie, Donald A. 1997. American journalists: getting the story. New York: Oxford University Press.
Streitmatter, Rodger. 1994. Raising her voice: African-American women journalists who changed history. Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky.
Ethel L. Payne Papers, 1857-1991, bulk 1973-1991. Manuscript Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.
Ethel L. Payne papers, 1974-1994. Chicago History Museum.
Ethel Payne papers, Anacostia Community Museum, Smithsonian Institution Archives, gift of Avis R. Johnson.
Payne, Ethel L., and Kathleen Currie. 1990. Interviews with Ethel Payne. Washington, D.C.: The Foundation.
Payne, Ethel, and Kathleen Currie. 1987. Reminiscences of Ethel Payne. Women in Journalism Oral History Project: The Washington Press Club Foundation.
Photographs of news events and people from the papers of journalist Ethel L. Payne, ca. 1911-1991, bulk 1958-1990. Ethel L. Payne Papers, 1857-1991, bulk 1973-1991. Manuscript Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.
African American journalists
Civil rights movements
Human rights workers
United States. Civil Rights Act of 1964
United States. Voting Rights Act of 1965
United States--Politics and government
Permanent Collection, Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum