Since 1970 there have been only seven black journalists who have been awarded a Pulitzer Prize in journalism for commentary. Stephen Henderson, editorial page editor of the Detroit Free Press, has become the eighth.
Henderson won the Pulitzer Prize for commentary on the financial crisis in Detroit. As the Pulitzer Prize committee noted, he won “for his columns on the financial crisis facing his hometown, written with passion and a stirring sense of place, sparing no one in their critique.”
And while Henderson was the only black journalist named individually as a winner, several black journalists won collectively with other staffers on the Boston Globe in the breaking news category “for its exhaustive and empathetic coverage of the Boston Marathon bombings and the ensuing manhunt that enveloped the city, using photography and a range of digital tools to capture the full impact of the tragedy,” reports the Journal-isms blog for The Root.
Detroit and the Free Press are celebrating. “He’s already been sprayed with Champagne,” Thelma Oakes, administrative assistant to the editorial page, told Journal-isms. “The mayor’s called, the congressman’s called, his wife and children are here. It’s just a stream of people coming in to congratulate him.”
Henderson himself told Journal-isms: “It’s overwhelming. What I hope that people can take from this is that even in our darkest hour, with our financial problems and the bankruptcy, there is still a city that’s functioning. There is still greatness there and excellence. I feel like it’s ironic almost that I’m being honored for work about perhaps the darkest hour for my city, the city where I was born. . . . We’re down but not out.”
The African American journalists who’ve previously won are Eugene Robinson,Washington Post, 2009; Cynthia Tucker, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 2007; Leonard Pitts Jr., Miami Herald, 2004; Colbert King, Washington Post, 2003; E.R. Shipp, New York Daily News, 1996; William Raspberry, Washington Post, 1994; and Clarence Page, Chicago Tribune, 1989. In 1993, Cuban-born Liz Balmaseda, Miami Herald, won.
Henderson, 43, was named editorial page editor of the Free Press in 2008 after being hired by the paper in the mid-1990s. He also served in various editing positions with the Baltimore Sun and the Chicago Tribune. In 2003, Henderson became the first mainstream newspaper reporter of color to regularly cover the U.S. Supreme Court for the former Knight Ridder newspapers and for McClatchy. He was back at the Free Press by 2007.
“The full staff of the I Boston.com, and BostonGlobe.com won the Pulitzer Prize for breaking news reporting for coverage of the Boston Marathon bombings in April 2013,” Journal-isms notes. Among those winners were Wesley Lowery, Martine Powers, Akilah Johnson, Meghan Irons, Anica Butler, Zuri Berry, Brian Ballou, Andrew Tran, Patty Wen, Tracy Jan, Milton Valencia, Maria Cramer, Maria Sacchetti and Swati Sharma.