Evelyn Cunningham


Evelyn Cunningham studied journalism at Long Island University and graduated in 1943. She secured a position with the Pittsburgh Courier, then one of America's leading newspapers serving the African-American community across the nation. In her roles as New York City editor, she interviewed Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, and many other prominent leaders, and she covered all of the major civil rights events of the1950s and 1960s. She also produced and hosted for five years a popular radio program on WLIB in New York called "At Home with Evelyn Cunningham," which featured interviews with significant figures in the African-American community in New York. Cunningham had campaigned for Nelson Rockefeller and, in 1968, he offered her a position on his staff and she accepted. After two years, as administrative assistant to Jackie Robinson, she moved to the Women's Unit of state government. There, she was responsible for liaison with women's organizations and mounted the first major conference in New York government on women's issues. She was invited to become a member of the Task Force on Women's Rights and Responsibilities in 1969 and later served in several other positions in the White House. She is the founder of The Coalition of 100 Black Women, and is an active supporter and participant in a number of organizations dedicated to the arts in the African-American community.

About the Transcript

After graduating from Long Island University in 1943, Evelyn Cunningham secured a job at the Pittsburgh Courier, an event she described as "a fluke." She spent 25 years there as a reporter, columnist and editor, interviewing all the major Black leaders and covering the civil rights stories of the day. In 1968, she interviewed Governor Nelson Rockefeller and, much to her surprise, he offered her a job, which she accepted on the spot. After two years as an executive assistant for Jackie Robinson, who was Special Assistant to the Governor, she joined the Women's Unit in the State of New York. She reflects on the influence of Gov. Rockefeller and of Rep. Shirley Chisholm in making her a feminist, and her experience in mounting the first major conference on women and government held in New York state. She describes her experiences on the Task Force on Women's Rights and Responsibilities, her perception of its style of approach as being distinct to Republican women, and her delight that all of its recommendations were eventually adopted. She reflects on women in the Washington press corps, and on Barbara Franklin's very important work for women in government. She also discusses her further work on women's issues in HEW, her service on Gov. Rockefeller's study on U.S.-South American relations, and on the White House Domestic Council under President Ford. Barriers for women, she concludes, are still largely attitudinal and contending with stereotypes; although today's young women don't seem to see them, and—perhaps not understanding the history of the struggle—they are not as unified and focused on helping other women advance.