Historian fundraises to honor trailblazing Black journalist

Journalist Ethel Payne was a voice for Black Americans in a predominantly white news landscape but was buried in an unmarked grave. Using a GoFundMe campaign, travel historian Tammy Gibson hopes to purchase a headstone for Ms. Payne.

The Styberg Library

Journalist Ethel Payne was a voice for Black Americans in a predominantly white news landscape but was buried in an unmarked grave. Using a GoFundMe campaign, travel historian Tammy Gibson hopes to purchase a headstone for Ms. Payne.

Adrianna Nehme, News Editor

Known as the “First Lady of the Black Press,” journalist Ethel Payne was a voice for Black Americans in a predominantly white news landscape. Along with covering historic moments in American history that included the March on Washington and Brown v. Board of Education, Ms. Payne was known for asking tough questions and being the first Black woman to join the White House Press Corps. She was even featured on a postage stamp in 2002.

Despite her notable accomplishments, Ms. Payne, a South Side native who died in 1991, is buried in an unmarked grave in Mount Glenwood Cemetery in south suburban Glenwood. Using a GoFundMe campaign, travel historian Tammy Gibson hopes to raise about $9,000 to purchase a headstone for this trailblazing journalist.

Ms. Gibson, a contributing writer for the Chicago Defender, came across Ms. Payne’s story while doing research.

“Ethel Payne’s name kept popping up and I was like, ‘Who is this woman?’” Ms. Gibson said. “From there on I was just pretty much amazed and kind of obsessed with her story, and Ethel Payne has definitely paved the way for a lot of Black female journalists.”

According to Ms. Gibson, there is no clear reason why Ms. Payne is buried in an unmarked grave. After receiving permission from Mount Glenwood Cemetery, Ms. Gibson began raising money for a headstone with the goal of educating others about the life and legacy of Ms. Payne.

“I felt in my heart that I wanted to give her a proper headstone she deserves,” Ms. Gibson said. 

Ms. Gibson began the GoFundMe campaign Sept. 6 with the goal of raising $8,852. After various articles were published about Ms. Gibson’s effort, individuals became more aware of her mission, including Ms. Payne’s niece who decided to help fundraise with Ms. Gibson.

“At first, the money wasn’t coming in as I thought, but I was just like, ‘I have to have patience,’” Ms. Gibson said. “As I started posting on social media, it started getting coverage.”

I would just like people to know that all she wanted to do was make her community happy and make sure the Black community is treated just like everyone else.”

— Tammy Gibson

Once Ms. Gibson reaches her goal, she plans to have an unveiling ceremony. Ms. Gibson is also working to see if she can get an honorary street in Ms. Payne’s name and make her childhood home in Englewood a historical landmark. 

“I would just like people to know that all she wanted to do was make her community happy and make sure the Black community is treated just like everyone else,” Ms. Gibson said. 

With Black History Month in February approaching, Ms. Gibson encourages others to research an individual that has contributed to this country that many do not know about.

“I always tell people Black history is more than Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks and Harriet Tubman,” Ms. Gibson said. “There are so many unsung African American heroes and sheroes that are not in the history books that have contributed to the fabric of this country, and one of those people is Ethel Payne.”