Samuel Yette
National Visionary

Born on July 2, 1929, Harriman, TN

Author, columnist, publisher

The youngest of 12 children, Samuel Yette would read the news and sports pages to his father in the evenings when he returned home from work. His parents placed a high priority on the pursuit of knowledge so it is no surprise that these early experiences laid the foundation for a distinguished career as an author, columnist and publisher.

After graduating from Tennessee State University with a degree in English, Yette entered the Air Force and achieved high honors at the Fixed-Wire Communications School. In 1953, he enrolled in the Master’s program in journalism at Indiana University in Bloomington. He was one of two black students. He encountered segregation and racism while at the university. The school’s policy was that only people of the same race could share a dorm and black students were not allowed to mention the NAACP while on campus. Despite this bigotry, Yette was a reporter for the Indiana Daily Student newspaper, writing articles on medicine and politics. He was inducted into Sigma Delta Chi, the national journalism fraternity in 1956. Yette persuaded the university to allow noted journalist Carl T. Rowan to speak at his induction ceremony. It was the beginning of a long friendship. Years later, Rowan would recommend Yette for the position of Executive Secretary of the Peace Corps and they would travel together on a 1977 journalism expedition to China.

After two years of teaching high school English in Chattanooga, Tenn., Yette’s first journalism assignment was at Life magazine in 1956. He worked with photographer Gordon Parks on a five-part series on segregation. The project was well-received and sparked Yette’s new-found respect for and lifelong interest in photojournalism. He then began working for The Afro-American, Ebony (Executive Editor, 1957-1959) and Newsweek covering the top issues of the day, especially stories about the political and social struggles of African Americans. He wrote about major events of the Civil Rights Movement, including the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the 1963 March on Washington. Yette said he and other black journalists saw no difference between themselves and civil rights activists. They considered themselves the front-end of the movement.

This interview has
been archived in the
NVLP Collection of
African American
Oral Histories at the
Library of Congress
American Folklife
While working as a Washington correspondent for Newsweek, Yette wrote the controversial 1971 book for which he is best known—“The Choice: The Issue of Black Survival in America.” The frank contents of the book caused him to be fired and entangled in a six-year court battle that he eventually lost.

After his stint at Newsweek, he began teaching journalism at Howard University, what he considers to be his greatest triumph. In 1972, Yette was elected the first African American to serve as president of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), Washington chapter. In that same year, his work, “The Choice,” was selected as the non-fiction work of distinction by the Black Academy of Arts and Letters. In 1982, he founded Cottage Books and took over the publishing of “The Choice” and “Washington and Two Marches, 1963 & 1983.” In 2000, he was inducted into the SPJ Hall of Fame.

Yette has two sons. His wife, Sadie, was killed by a drunk driver in 1983. He continues to lecture, write columns and is working on a new book.



URL (Click to bookmark): http://www.visionaryproject.org/yettesamuel