Robert Churchwell
VHFP Visionary

September 9, 1917 to February 2, 2009
Born in Clifton, Tennessee


Interviewed by Jerrard Davis
2002 Visionary Heritage Fellow
Fisk University

A war veteran and pioneering journalist, Robert Churchwell was one of the first African Americans to integrate a prominent southern newspaper.

Churchwell was born on September 9, 1917 in Clifton, Tennessee. He served four years in the U.S. Army during World War II. Afterwards, he attended and graduated from Fisk University, where he majored in English.

In 1950, Robert Churchwell was hired at the daily newspaper, The Nashville Banner , and became one of the first blacks to work full-time as a reporter at a prominent Southern newspaper. At the time, the Banner was known for its defense of the "old South" and its segregationist ways. Churchwell was originally hired to report on the African American community, as a way to increase readership among blacks. "They hired me so the Banner could start running pictures of Negroes and Negro stories all over the paper, not just in one part," said Churchwell during his videotaped interview with NVLP in 2002. Churchwell later became the paper's education writer.

At first, employees at the Banner would not let Churchwell work in the newsroom. For five years, he wrote his stories at home and walked to the paper to deliver them to the city editor. Later, when he was given a desk in the newsroom, according to Churchwell, only a half dozen of his white colleagues would speak to him. For 31 years, Churchwell worked for the Banner , retiring in 1981.

In 1965, Churchwell became the first African American member of the Middle Tennessee Chapter of Sigma Delta Chi (now known as the Society of Professional Journalists), a society in which he served as chapter vice president in 1969.

After retirement, Churchwell worked for Tennessee State University (TSU) in its Bureau of Public Relations. Because of his experience in the media and his familiarity with TSU's program, Churchwell was appointed as its interim director in 1982.[1]

In 1994, Churchwell was named a charter member of the National Association of Black Journalists; and inducted into the association's region VI Hall of Fame.[2]

Churchwell's previous writing experience includes a news magazine he co-founded, called Yours , and writing columns for the Commentator , a local tabloid-size paper published for the African American community.

On February 1, 2009, Churchwell passed away. He was 91. Churchwell is survived by his wife, Mary Elizabeth Buckingham, and their five children.

[1] Churchwell, Robert(1917-) - Journalist, Enters fisk university, Chronology, Retires from the nashville banner

[2] Churchwell, Robert(1917-) - Journalist, Enters fisk university, Chronology, Retires from the nashville banner




Gil Noble's Visionary Page (Journalist)

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