Gwen Ifill – Black History Month Profile
Black History Month 2020
Gwen Ifill (1955 – 2016)
Gwen Ifill, born in 1955 in Jamaica, Queens, is known as a trailblazing African American journalist, television newscaster and author. Born to immigrant parents, Ms. Ifill moved around the East Coast following her father’s ministry at different African Methodist Episcopal churches during her childhood. She graduated with a degree in communications from Simmons College, a women’s college in Boston, and went on to an incredibly successful career in journalism.
During her career, Ms. Ifill worked for numerous respected news organizations including the Baltimore Evening Sun, the Washington Post, and the New York Times. She covered the White House for the Times from 1991 to 1994 and then went on to accept her first job in television with NBC News, where she served as the network’s Capital Hill reporter.
In 1999, Ms. Ifill was named moderator of the PBS program Washington Week in Review, which made her the first Black woman to host a national political talk show on television. Ms. Ifill was also the first Black woman to moderate Vice-Presidential debates, when she moderated the 2004 debate between Vice President Dick Cheney and U.S. Senator John Edwards, and the 2008 debate between U.S. Senator Joe Biden and Alaskan Governor Sarah Palin. She made history again in 2016, as a member of the first team of women to moderate a Democratic presidential debate, when she moderated the debate between U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders and Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
In 2009, Ms. Ifill published a New York Times best-selling book entitled The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama. Her book focused on several African American politicians and provided keen insight on a pivotal moment in American politics and history.
Throughout her career Ms. Ifill received countless awards, honorary doctorates, and invitations to serve on prestigious boards across the country. In January 2020, Ms. Ifill was posthumously honored by the U.S. Postal Service with forever postage stamp. The stamp is the 43rd in Postal Services’ Black Heritage series.
Ms. Ifill and Emma L. Bowen shared a passion for equal representation in mass media, in fact, some of Mrs. Bowen’s earliest advocacy work was on behalf of minorities in media. In 1971, Mrs. Bowen helped to form Black Citizens for a Fair Media (BCFM). Soon after, BCFM approached broadcast executives at the New York City flagship stations of the major television networks to establish positive agreements to improve programming, develop training programs as well as employment opportunities for people of color. Mrs. Bowen’s advocacy for minority representation in media continued throughout her career.
The Bowen Center is pleased to honor Gwen Ifill, one of the most respected reporters of all time who was and remains instrumental in the advancement of women of color in journalism!