Courier pioneer passes…Cunningham led fight for women, civil rights

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From the 1940s through 1962, Evelyn Cunningham led the crusade for civil rights and women’s rights as a writer and editor for the Pittsburgh Courier, the largest Black newspaper in the country at the time. After leaving the paper in 1962 she continued her fight to open closed doors for women and Blacks to the point of being one of the most respected and feared women in the country.

EvelynCunningham
EVELYN CUNNINGHAM

Cunningham died April 28 of natural causes at the Jewish Home and Hospital in Manhattan, said her niece, Gigi Freeman. She was 94.

She traveled the world while covering many stories and opening doors for women. She was a founder of The 100 Black Women.

She told the Daily News in a November 2009 interview that the election of Barack Obama as president was hard to believe.

“No, I did not see it happening,” she said. “I met him right here in this apartment. He came up to see me when he first visited the city. I adored him. He was a natural born leader.”

She served as a special assistant to New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller for community relations and was named director of the Women’s Unit of the state of New York in 1969. She followed Rockefeller to Washington when he was Gerald Ford’s vice president.

Bill Nunn Jr., who worked at the Courier as a sportswriter and editor from 1948 to 1969, said, “She was the type of person who really got along with everybody. She was one of the guys at the paper. The guys at the paper had a once a week poker game and she’d be the only lady involved. She was just that type of person.”

Rod Doss, editor and publisher of the New Pittsburgh Courier, who last saw Cunningham when accepting the Polk award in 1998 said, “She was still very proud of the time spent at the Courier.

“She was a gracious lady, still vibrant and talkative. She had a tremendous smile that flashed across her face with the kind of enthusiasm you feel.”

Born and raised in Elizabeth City, North Carolina on January 25, 1916, with a childhood dream career to become a cotton picker arose one of the worlds most prominent and influential women of journalism. She made strides and broke down doors in the media industry for more than 50 years. She showed great dedication covering the secret crimes of the segregated south.

She interviewed everyone who was anyone in the civil rights struggle through the ‘50s and ‘60s, including Malcolm X, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. She also interviewed some of the top entertainers of the past 50 years, stating that Duke Ellington stood out the most.

It’s a history that seems far away from her present-day Harlem apartment with its shiny hardwood floors, abstract art, and mounds of books, said Kendra Crosdale in an interview with her just before her death. “Books influence you the most, they are a way of communication,” she explained.

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