Hometown Trailblazers

Dorothy Butler Gilliam, Louisville native and author of “Trailblazers: A Pioneering Journalist’s Fight to Make the Media Look More Like America.”

By Janice Carter Levitch

Portrait of Janice by J. Edward Brown.

Let me tell you about my recent travels that took me from Washington D.C. to New Orleans and how it all looped back around to our beautiful city of Louisville. The adventure to D.C. was inspired by one of my kiddos, Lane Levitch, who is embarking on a summer internship there. While in D.C., I received a call from a friend, Blair Butler, who told me about his aunt Dorothy Butler Gilliam who had written a book – not just any book but her memoirs.

After telling Blair I was in D.C., we checked and Dorothy was only eight minutes away from where I was staying. Within the hour, I was shaking hands with her as she proceeded to autograph a copy of her book, “Trailblazer: A Pioneering Journalist’s Fight to Make the Media Look More Like America” for me.

“I came of age in Louisville,” Dorothy explained. “It was the segregated South at that time. Despite the harshness, we were able to learn what was needed to be on a path for success. I became hooked on journalism while working for the Louisville Defender. I learned to take shorthand at Ursuline College and that helped me at the Washington Post. Louisville is where I got my start. I learned journalism was a profession that could open new worlds for me.”

Dr. Nick Mueller, Louisville native and co-founder of The National WWII Museum.

Skip ahead a few years and Dorothy found herself being hired by the Washington Post as the publication’s first black female reporter. This was 1961, the height of the Civil Rights Movement. What an honor to meet someone so accomplished. I’m still in awe.

From D.C., my travels took me to New Orleans for a little Creole elegance. My trip included a visit to The National WWll Museum, which was co-founded by Louisville native Dr. Nick Mueller. This museum is astounding and carefully curated to allow visitors to learn about the history of the countless men and women who have fought for our freedom.

The National WWII Museum.

D-Day’s 75th anniversary was in full swing. Some of the folks around me wore jackets emblazoned with special medals of honor denoting the time they had served in the military. I learned that Nick and his friend Stephen Ambrose shared a drink in the gazebo behind Stephen’s house 27 years ago, and the idea for the museum was born. I find it inspiring that a conversation between friends can create a place that attracts about 700,000 visitors each year. The stories I discover whilst traveling still leave me wonderstruck and proud that so many Louisville natives are brave trailblazers making a significant difference in our society. And for that, I am truly grateful. V

Army and Navy personnel await orders during maneuvers in England prior to D-Day. Navy demolitions experts aided army personnel in clearing obstacles on the beaches. Photos courtesy of The National WWII Museum