Nancy Hicks Maynard: Trailblazing Journalist

BlogHer Original Post

Nancy Hicks Maynard, the first black female reporter at The New York Times, a co-founder of an institute to provide training to journalists of color, and along with her husband, the first person of color to own a major city daily newspaper, died on Sunday, Sept. 21. She was only 61, but as journalism professor and BlogHer Contributing Editor Kim Pearson said in an email about Hicks Maynard, "She accomplished a lot in 61 years."

Her leadership began at a young age. Hicks Maynard was the youngest staff reporter at the NY Times when she was hired at the age of 21. When she founded the Institute for Journalism Education (renamed the Maynard Institute after her husband, Robert C. Maynard, died), she was a mere 30 years old. The media - both print and online - is paying tribute to this exceptional woman.

From the New York Times:

By less than a year, Ms. Hicks Maynard preceded Charlayne Hunter-Gault as the first black woman to become a reporter at The Times. ...Ms. Hunter-Gault, who became a correspondent for the Public Broadcasting Service, said Monday that Ms. Hicks Maynard was “a groundbreaker” at The Times at a time when “we were trying to effect change in the portrayal of black people.”

“Nancy helped us survive even the inadvertent racism,” Ms. Hunter-Gault said. “And the thing about Nancy was that when so many of us were preoccupied with doing stories about black people, she paved the way in a new direction.”

From the Los Angeles Times:

"Her leadership was really significant in the early development of the institute," said Steve Montiel, who directs the Institute for Justice and Journalism at USC and is still a board member at the Maynard Institute. "She understood power and was able to get leaders in the industry . . . to make commitments" to hire the institute's graduates and other minority journalists.

BlogHer Contributing Editor Maria Niles, who also blogs at PopConsumer, shared her aunt Mary Ellen (Perry) Butler's thoughts on the impact of Hicks Maynard's work on others:

You can't remember Nancy Hicks Maynard without remembering her husband and professional partner, the late Robert C. Maynard, as well. Throughout their distinguished careers, Nancy and Bob worked tirelessly to create employment and advancement opportunities for minority group journalists on what were -- and still are -- mostly white newspaper staffs. As a black journalist myself, I was one of many reporters and editors who benefited from the Maynards' dedication. Three quick examples:

In 1978, when the Bob Maynard worked for the Washington Post and Nancy for the New York Times' Washington Bureau, they gave me an interview for an article I wrote on race relations even though I worked for the competing Washington Star. Their insights added valuable depth to my story.

In 1979, after the Maynards moved to Oakland where Bob became editor of the Oakland Tribune, he and Nancy hired me and several other qualified minority group journalists who had been snubbed by previous editors. Later, as co-owners of the Tribune, Nancy and Bob shouldered equal responsibility for the paper's survival -- and our jobs -- for the next 10 years.

In the late 1980's, the Maynards appointed me editorial/op-ed page editor of the Tribune. As far as we know, I became the first African American female to hold that position in the nation.

As these three examples illustrate, Nancy and Bob were a power couple who did what true leaders do: They shared their power so that others might benefit. Those of us fortunate to have worked with Nancy, including many non-minority journalists, will always remember her dignity, her graciousness, and her selflessness in good times and bad."

In forming a partnership with her husband, and in creating opportunities for others rather than hoarding whatever power came their way, Nancy Hicks Maynard is a true role model. Ruben, a teacher in the Bronx who writes at Is Our Children Learning? (a quote from George W. Bush) called Maynard Hicks "a hero for my kids and me to share," noting that she "leaves a legacy of both powerful words and actions." I hope that he will teach his students about her because many people (myself included) did not know about her until her death.

ACP at Ignis Fatuus excerpted the New York Times article on Hicks Maynard's life and death, then noted:

I can't stop tearing up about this. I feel like a failure as a feminist and as a black woman for not knowing about this incredible person until now.

It's certainly not a personal failure, but a failure of our society, which often (even in women's studies courses) marginalizes the achievements of women of color. I was also angry that it is only now that I learned about Hicks Maynard, too. Given the impressive range of her achievements, Hicks Maynard's name should be as famous and regarded as Ida Tarbell is, if not more. (In linking to Tarbell, I just discovered that she opposed women's suffrage, arguing that "women’s contributions belonged in the private sphere," thus further proving what an exceptional person Nancy Hicks Maynard was in helping others achieve what she did.)

We can learn a lot from the life and work of Nancy Hicks Maynard. She is the type of women who we should aspire to be. As the Times concluded, "She decided she could make a difference." And she did.

Suzanne also blogs about life at Campaign for Unshaved Snatch (CUSS) & Other Rants and politics at The Political Voices of Women. Her first book, Off the Beaten (Subway) Track, is about unusual things to see and do in NYC.

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