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Gwen Ifill

PBS-TV journalist Gwen Ifill was born on September 29, 1955 in New York City to her parents, O. Urcille Ifill, Sr., an African Methodist Episcopal minister who hailed from Panama, and her mother, Eleanor Husbands from Barbados. Her father's ministry required the family to live in several cities in different church parsonages throughout New England including Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and New York, where the family resided in federally subsidized housing. Ifill's interest in journalism was rooted in her parents' insistence that their children gather nightly in front of the television to watch the national news. In 1973, Ifill graduated from Classical High School in Springfield, Massachusetts. Four years later, she received her B.A. degree in communications from Simmons College in Boston. During her senior year, she interned at the Boston Herald American newspaper.

Ifill worked at the Boston Herald American newspaper as a reporter in 1977. She left in 1980 to work as a writer for the Baltimore Evening Sun where she was able to work as a political reporter. In 1984, Ifill moved to Washington D.C. to work as a political reporter for the Washington Post where she covered the suburban Maryland beat until 1988, when she was promoted to the national news desk and sent to report on the Republican National Convention. Ifill then accepted a position as White House correspondent for the New York Times in 1991. She went on to NBC News in 1994 and worked in the Washington, D.C. bureau as chief Congressional and political correspondent. In 1999, Ifill became the first African American woman to host a prominent political talk show on national television when she became moderator and managing editor of PBS’s Washington Week and senior political correspondent for The PBS NewsHour. In 2004, Ifill moderated the vice-presidential debate between Republican Vice President Dick Cheney and Democrat Senator John Edwards, and in 2008, she moderated the vice-presidential debate between Democratic Senator Joe Biden and Republican Governor Sarah Palin.

Ifill was the recipient of numerous awards including the George Foster Peabody Award and the Leonard Zeidenberg First Amendment Award. Her book The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama, was published in 2009.

Gwen Ifill was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on March 8, 2012.

Ifill passed away on November 14, 2016.

Accession Number

A2012.058

Sex

Female

Interview Date

3/8/2012 |and| 3/22/2014

Last Name

Ifill

Maker Category
Marital Status

Single

Schools

Simmons College

Springfield Central High School

Search Occupation Category
First Name

Gwen

Birth City, State, Country

New York

HM ID

IFI01

Favorite Season

Spring

Sponsor

Herb and Sheran Wilkins Media Makers

State

New York

Favorite Vacation Destination

Caribbean

Favorite Quote

None

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

District of Columbia

Birth Date

9/29/1955

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Washington

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Gravy

Death Date

11/14/2016

Short Description

Newspaper reporter and television news reporter Gwen Ifill (1955 - 2016 ) was the first African American woman in history to host a prominent political talk show on national television when she became moderator and managing editor of 'Washington Week' and senior correspondent for 'The PBS NewsHour'.

Employment

Boston Herald American

Baltimore Evening Sun

Washington Post

New York Times

NBC News

PBS Washington Week

The PBS NewsHour

Main Sponsor
Favorite Color

Blue

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Gwen Ifill's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Gwen Ifill lists her favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Gwen Ifill describes her father's personality and the values he taught her

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Gwen Ifill talks about her father's family background in Panama City, Panama and his immigration to the United States

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Gwen Ifill describes her mother's family background in Barbados

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Gwen Ifill reflects upon how she embodies her parents' characteristics

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Gwen Ifill describes her siblings

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Gwen Ifill describes her earliest childhood memories of growing up in poverty

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Gwen Ifill lists the cities she lived in as a child

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Gwen Ifill describes the sights, sounds and smells of her childhood

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Gwen Ifill describes her childhood personality

Tape: 1 Story: 12 - Gwen Ifill describes her upbringing in the African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) Church, pt. 1

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Gwen Ifill describes her upbringing in the African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) church, pt. 2

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Gwen Ifill talks about her identity as an African American with Caribbean heritage

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Gwen Ifill describes her relationships with her parents as a child

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Gwen Ifill talks about her close relationship with her brother and love of reading

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Gwen Ifill recalls the assassinations of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy and Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Gwen Ifill recalls her exposure to the news as a child

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Gwen Ifill recalls her father's patriotism and race pride

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Gwen Ifill describes her educational experience from junior high school in Steelton, Pennsylvania through high school in Springfield, Massachusetts

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Gwen Ifill describes her experiences entering Simmons College in Boston, Massachusetts

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Gwen Ifill talks about her internships and mentors while at Simmons College in Boston, Massachusetts

Tape: 2 Story: 11 - Gwen Ifill talks about African American student organizations at Simmons College in Boston, Massachusetts

Tape: 2 Story: 12 - Gwen Ifill describes her experiences interning at the Boston Herald American newspaper

Tape: 2 Story: 13 - Gwen Ifill remembers Shirley Chisholm speaking at her graduation from Simmons College in Boston, Massachusetts in 1977

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Gwen Ifill recalls reporting on the first big story of her career at the Boston Herald American

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Gwen Ifill talks about attending St. Paul AME Church in Cambridge, while living in Boston, Massachusetts

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Gwen Ifill explains how she learned about politics as a reporter at the Boston Herald American

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Gwen Ifill talks about the lessons she learned as a political reporter for the Baltimore Evening Sun

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Gwen Ifill talks about covering Baltimore, Maryland Mayor William Donald Schaefer for the Baltimore Evening Sun

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Gwen Ifill talks about accepting a job at The Washington Post

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Gwen Ifill describes what it was like to be an African American woman reporter at The Washington Post in the 1980s

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Gwen Ifill reflects upon the lack of diversity in The Washington Post's newsroom

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Gwen Ifill talks about moving to The Washington Post's national staff in 1987 and covering HistoryMaker Reverend Jesse L. Jackson's presidential campaign

Tape: 3 Story: 10 - Gwen Ifill reflects upon the significance of HistoryMaker Reverend Jesse L. Jackson's 1988 presidential campaign

Tape: 3 Story: 11 - Gwen Ifill talks about being hired by The New York Times as a congressional correspondent

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Slating of Gwen Ifill's interview, session two

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Gwen Ifill talks about other African American journalist working at The Washington Post in the 1980s

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Gwen Ifill talks about the repercussions of the Janet Cooke scandal

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Gwen Ifill talks about covering Prince George's County, Maryland while a reporter for The Washington Post

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Gwen Ifill talks about covering long-shot candidates in the 1988 presidential campaign, pt. 1

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Gwen Ifill recalls interviewing voters with journalist David Broder

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Gwen Ifill talks about covering long-shot candidates in the 1988 presidential campaign, pt. 2

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Gwen Ifill describes what it is like to a reporter on a political campaign trail

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Gwen Ifill describes the dynamics between reporters and candidates' staff while on the campaign trail

Tape: 4 Story: 10 - Gwen Ifill talks about being hired by The New York Times

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Gwen Ifill describes her first experiences appearing on television

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Gwen Ifill talks about the prestige of working at The New York Times

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Gwen Ifill talks about being hired away from The New York Times by NBC News

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Gwen Ifill talks about her close friendships with HistoryMaker Michele Norris and Michel Martin who also transitioned into television at the same time

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Gwen Ifill recalls taking care of her mother before she died

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Gwen Ifill lists other African American journalists transitioning from print to TV journalism in the early 1990s

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Gwen Ifill reflects upon the differences between commercial television and public broadcasting, pt. 1

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Gwen Ifill explains how she was hired by PBS for 'Washington Week in Review' and 'PBS NewsHour'

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Gwen Ifill reflects upon the differences between commercial television and public broadcasting, pt. 2

Tape: 5 Story: 10 - Gwen Ifill describes her vision for 'Washington Week'

Tape: 5 Story: 11 - Gwen Ifill explains the structure of the Public Broadcasting Service and the evolution of 'PBS NewsHour'

Tape: 5 Story: 12 - Gwen Ifill explains the difference between 'PBS NewsHour' and 'Washington Week'

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Gwen Ifill recalls moderating the 2004 and 2008 vice presidential debates

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Gwen Ifill recalls how she prepared to moderate the 2004 and 2008 vice presidential debates

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Gwen Ifill recalls moderating the 2004 and 2008 vice presidential debates, pt. 2

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Gwen Ifill talks about breaking her ankle before the 2008 vice presidential debate

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Gwen Ifill recalls writing an op-ed in The New York Times denouncing Don Imus's racist comments about the Rutgers women's basketball team, pt. 1

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Gwen Ifill recalls writing an op-ed in The New York Times denouncing Don Imus's racist comments about the Rutgers women's basketball team, pt. 2

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Gwen Ifill talks about mentoring young African American women

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Gwen Ifill describes the process of writing her book 'The Breakthrough: Race and Politics in the Age of Obama'

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Gwen Ifill reflects upon the evolution and the next generation of African American politicians

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Gwen Ifill recalls being considered to be the successor to 'Meet the Press' host Tim Russert

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Gwen Ifill reflects upon her career

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Gwen Ifill reflects upon her experience interviewing celebrities for The HistoryMakers

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - Gwen Ifill recalls her experience interviewing HistoryMaker Ursula Burns for 'An Evening with Ursula Burns'

Tape: 7 Story: 7 - Gwen Ifill talks about her positive African American identity

Tape: 7 Story: 8 - Gwen Ifill describes her hopes and concerns for the African American community

Tape: 8 Story: 1 - Gwen Ifill reflects upon the legacy of her generation of African Americans

Tape: 8 Story: 2 - Gwen Ifill reflects upon the lessons she learned as a the child of immigrants

Tape: 8 Story: 3 - Gwen Ifill reflects upon her racial identity

Tape: 8 Story: 4 - Gwen Ifill reflects upon her legacy

Tape: 8 Story: 5 - Gwen Ifill describes how she would like to be remembered

Tape: 9 Story: 1 - Sponsors of 'An Evening With Gwen Ifill'

Tape: 9 Story: 2 - Introduction of 'An Evening With Gwen Ifill'

Tape: 9 Story: 3 - Gwen Ifill talks about the importance of creating a sense of accessibility for her audience

Tape: 9 Story: 4 - Film clip of Gwen Ifill's family background and education

Tape: 9 Story: 5 - Gwen Ifill describes her childhood household

Tape: 9 Story: 6 - Gwen Ifill recalls using her platform to address the racial slur directed at the Rutgers University women's basketball team in 2007

Tape: 9 Story: 7 - Gwen Ifill describes her childhood aspirations and her experiences working at the Boston Herald American

Tape: 9 Story: 8 - Gwen Ifill talks about her early journalism career and a clip of her transition from print to TV news

Tape: 9 Story: 9 - Gwen Ifill recalls covering HistoryMaker Reverend Jesse L. Jackson and other long-shot candidates during the 1988 presidential campaign

Tape: 9 Story: 10 - Gwen Ifill describes her transition from print to TV journalism and her passion for covering politics

Tape: 9 Story: 11 - Gwen Ifill talks about hosting 'Washington Week in Review' and being a senior political correspondent for the 'PBS NewsHour'

Tape: 9 Story: 12 - Film clip of Gwen Ifill's career at PBS, hosting political debates and interviewing HistoryMakers

Tape: 9 Story: 13 - Gwen Ifill reflects upon being a role model

Tape: 9 Story: 14 - Gwen Ifill recalls her experiences hosting vice presidential debates

Tape: 9 Story: 15 - Special message from HistoryMakers Dionne Warwick and Diahann Carroll

Tape: 9 Story: 16 - Gwen Ifill recalls her interviews for The HistoryMakers 'An Evening With...' events

Tape: 9 Story: 17 - Gwen Ifill reflects upon her legacy

Tape: 9 Story: 18 - Gwen Ifill describes her dream interview subject for The HistoryMakers

Tape: 9 Story: 19 - Musical selection from Mae Ya Carter Ryan

Tape: 9 Story: 20 - Information on how to order a copy of 'An Evening With Gwen Ifill'

DASession

1$1

DATape

2$3

DAStory

6$9

DATitle
Gwen Ifill recalls her exposure to the news as a child
Gwen Ifill talks about moving to The Washington Post's national staff in 1987 and covering HistoryMaker Reverend Jesse L. Jackson's presidential campaign
Transcript
So what's the discussion occurring around the dining room table? Are you--'cause I remember, you know, in our household there was, you know, all these things were sort happening; you know and your parents [O. Urcille Ifill, Sr. and Eleanor Husbands Ifill] were discussing it, and so I'm just wondering is that--how are you being formed? You know, how is your mind being formed about events, you know, that are occurring in the world at a time that, you know, you're young but very aware of what--$$Yeah. But part of it is we really read the newspaper every day, and we watched the news every night. So, part of the reason I'm a journalist today is 'cause I remember we got the afternoon paper, I remember reading it. Every place we lived, we got the newspaper. We read it. We were--we took it in. I loved the idea that someone somewhere was asking questions and getting their name on a story and to tell the story. And then we watched '[The] Huntley-Brinkley [Report]' growing up. I mean, we were very keenly aware of what was happening in the world around us, and when we would talk about it at the table. And then my father would throw provocative ideas onto the table so that we could fight with him about it, so that we could--I don't think we were even conscious of that's what he was doing at the time. He would say something outrageous, and we'd say, "That's not true." But it would force you to think through what you believed and backup your arguments. So we, you know, my brother was a star on the debate club. I don't think it's an accident that he knew how to debate, because he learned how to do it at the table. And we all, in that sense, still kind of do that when we get together at Thanksgiving. We still talk about current events. We still--everyone still has to be a little bit literate about that and we find a way to be.$What are you learning about national politics at this point? And are you covering national or are you covering, in 19--$$In 1987, I covered--I was recruited to the national staff [at The Washington Post] by a woman by the name of Ann Devroy who was a political editor, who took a look at her staff of reporters and said, "I've got nothing by middle-aged white guys." And she consciously said, "This is a bad idea." So she looks--started looking around the metro staff. Who do we have? Who else has covered politics? And she--my interview for the job, but she hired me in part because she thought I would bring up a new--a fresh eye, new blood to these guys who'd been covering things the same since the '70s [1970s]. And one of the people who I have to say embraced me and completely was happy to see me and guided me along the way was David Broder, who had been doing this forever, but saw in me the possibility to learn something he didn't know. I find at different points throughout my career, there were always the people who were most helpful to me and nurturing were often people who thought that there was something I could tell them. Tim Russert was the same way. "What is it that you know that I don't know? Tell me, and then I can tell you what you don't know. We can help each other." And so, as a result, I learned from David Broder how to listen and talk to voters and to value what individuals say as much, if not more, than what official statements say, and to listen more closely. And there was so--there was such a rich--there was such a rich group of folks to learn from if you wanted to, if you wanted to be open to it, and if you didn't pretend like you knew it all, and I didn't know anything. I knew nothing about covering national politics. I was at the bottom of the totem pole, so I was sent out to cover all the candidates who were never going to be president. I had--if they were--looked like they were the most improbable, I was there to cover Pat Buchanan; I was there to cover [Marion Gordon] "Pat" Robertson, and I was there to cover every person left standing; 1988 was my first campaign, national campaign, and 'til the last person standing, who was not the nominee, was [HistoryMaker Reverend] Jesse [L.] Jackson. And so on Jesse Jackson's campaign, he had an entire press corps that was black folk, because in 1984 and 1988, once again, all the people at the bottom of the totem pole on all these different newsroom organizations often were people like me; folk who are covering their first campaign, black people; Marilyn Milloy and--who was working for Newsday at the time, and [HistoryMaker] Joe Davidson, who was working for--who was Joe working for? [The] Wall Street Journal, I guess? Maybe I'm missing another newspaper. But there were, like, a bunch of us who were all-[HistoryMaker] Sylvester Monroe was working for Time. We were all working for different newspapers, and we--Phyllis Crock [ph.] was working for NPR, and we all found ourselves out with Reverend Jackson. This was in some ways a weird ghetto-ish thing. And in other ways, it was very useful, because we did kind of get the rhythm of the Jackson campaign. We were attuned to talking to different kinds of people and hearing what they were saying and what was really driving it. We were better versed in trying to get beneath the candidate to find out what was really going on in the campaign, and Reverend Jackson was very cagey character, you know. He knew how to make black reporters feel guilty because he'd say, "You're working for the man, you know, so you're probably selling me out." And he knew how to make white reporters feel guilty by saying, "You know, that's kind of a racist question you're asking." He wouldn't have to say it, but he would imply it so that you were always a little bit off guard. It was also the most disorganized campaign in the history of the world, because he would take off and not know where he was going to land, and he would just--but still wherever he landed there would be four thousand people waiting for him, because he was the phenomenon. He won thirteen states. I mean, we're covering a campaign this year with--there are some people who are not going to win one state, and we're giving them all this all this time. This guy went around and he just--he really earned himself a role at the [Democratic] National Convention in the way that he had in 1984, that made it an exhilarating experience, an exhausting experience to cover, and taught me a whole lot about black politics in a way that served me later when I wrote my book ['The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama,' Gwen Ifill]. I mean, I understood kind of the rhythm of black politics and met a lot of the people who were leading the charge in a way that I wouldn't have covering, or never did, covering white politicians because it wasn't as important to them to speak to those communities.