“We tell the stories. We tell the stories of the people. We told the stories of Colored people, we told the stories of Negroes, we told the stories of Black people and now we tell the stories of African-Americans. Does it really matter, sports, social, entertainment, or political. They are all our stories, and if we don’t tell it, who will?” – Hazel Garland
Hazel Hill Garland was the nation’s first Black female editor-in-chief at a newspaper and fought tirelessly to “bridge the gap between races” and spotlight how Black people were treated in the media.
Hazel Barbara Maxine Hill was born on January 28, 1913, in Terre Haute, Indiana, to George and Hazel Hill. Her parents were farmers who would go on to have 15 additional children, many of whom Hazel helped raise. In the 1920s the family moved to Pennsylvania, where her father took work as a coal miner. Though Hazel was smart and loved school, her parents forced her to drop out of high school so that her brother could continue on in school; they could only afford one and hoped he would go to college. Her father also believed female education to be a waste because a woman would get married and stop working anyway. Hazel took a job as a maid and eventually her brother earned a college scholarship, only to turn it down for a relationship that would eventually fail.
Hazel was crushed, but didn’t let disappointment stop her. When she wasn’t working, she could be found in the library reading, continuing her education in her own way. She also danced, sang and played the drums. Fittingly, she met her future husband, Percy Andrew Garland, a trombone player, at a party. They married in January 1935. Their only child, Phyllis, was born the following October
As was typical of the time, Hazel became a housewife and focused on raising her daughter. Her mother-in-law urged her to join some local volunteer organizations and she became club reporter for several; her duties were to take notes on events and send them to local newspapers. The editors of the Pitsburgh Courier, a widely-read Black newspaper. liked what they saw and hired her as a stringer for $2 an article. She was so prolific that they gave her her own column, called Tri-City News, which covered all manner of community events, including some of the only positive news about Black citizens in the media
In 1946, Hazel grabbed the opportunity for journalism training offered by the paper. She began covering for journalists who were on vacation and the quality of her writing, combined with her trademark conversational tone, soon won her a role as a general assignments reporter. The men were unhappy with this and sought revenge by sending her to cover a murder at a local brothel. Hazel was not upset by this; she simply paid a male colleague to accompany her (for safety reasons) and wrote the story.
Soon, Hazel’s reporting on events from the housing projects to the richest of Black society were reprinted in both local and national editions of the paper, where they would appear for the next 42 years. In 1951, she became a member of the Pittsburgh chapter of The Girl Friend’s, Inc., a prestigious civic society for Black women.
In 1952, she became feature editor of the paper’s new magazine section, the first woman to ever hold that position in any section of the paper. She was sent to rural South Carolina to chronicle the work of Maude E. Callen, a community nurse and midwife who had both white and Black clients. Hazel won the 1953 New York Newspaper Guild Page One Award for Journalism for her efforts.
Two years later, she began a television column called Video Vignettes, in which she made a point to note when black performers or broadcasters were dismissed or when shows relevant to the community were cancelled. She sent copies of her columns to the network and station managers to quietly make them aware of how Black people were being treated. The column was so popular that it ran for 33 years, making it one of the longest-running newspaper television columns in history. In 1961, Hazel and her friend and fellow reporter Toki Schalk Johnson, became the first two Black members of the Women’s Press Club of Pittsburgh.
The paper ran into financial trouble in the early 1960s and in 1966 was bought out by John H. Sengstacke, publisher of the Chicago Defender, and renamed the New Pittsburgh Courier.. Hazel continued her work as editor of the entertainment and women’s sections of the paper, also helping with layout, article illustration and design. Later, one of Hazel’s fellow writers said that without her, the paper would have gone out of business.
In 1972 the publisher promoted her to city editor and again to editor-in-chief in 1974, becoming the first Black woman in the United States to hold such a position. Despite being harassed by her fellow journalists who couldn’t handle reporting to a woman, much less a Black woman, Hazel was named Editor of the Year by the National Newspaper Publishers Association.
Hazel spent the next year updating the paper, adding new beats and making sure existing sections appealed to audiences of all races. She also advocated for students to study and pursue careers in journalism. She was much-honored for this work. In 1975 she received a National Headliner award from Women in Communications and In 1976 the New Pittsburgh Courier won the John B. Russwurm award for the best national African-American newspaper. She was also honored by the Jewish women’s group ORT America for “bridging the gap between races.”
In 1977, Hazel was forced to retire as editor due to illness, but continued writing columns for the paper and working as an advisor to the publisher. She also served on the Pulitzer Prize selection committee in 1979. In 1987, she and Mal Goode, a national broadcaster, started the Garland-Goode Scholarship for journalism students.
Hazel died on April 5, 1988, at the age of 75 of a heart attack following surgery on a cerebral aneurysm.