Author: Institute for Caribbean Studies | Date: 25 June 2017
Distinguished Journalist Gwen Ifill was of the most successful female African American news correspondents of all time, having worked for the Washington Post, The New York Times, NBC and PBS. She was the first African-American woman to moderate a vice presidential debate. In 2013, Ifill and Judy Woodruff became co-anchors and co-managing editors of PBS NewsHour, becoming the first women to anchor a network news program.
Gwen reported on a wide range of issues from foreign affairs to U.S. politics and policies interviewing national and international newsmakers. She covered seven presidential campaigns and moderated two vice presidential debates -- in 2004 the debate between Republican Dick Cheney and Democrat John Edwards and in 2008 the debate between Democrat Joe Biden and Republican Sarah Palin. Each week on "Washington Week," Gwen led a robust roundtable discussion with award-winning Journalists who provided reporting and analysis of the major stories emanating from the nation's capital. Now in its 50th year on the air, "Washington Week" is the longest-running prime-time news and public affairs program on television.
Gwen led numerous public conversations and town halls exploring issues facing the country. In June 2016, she moderated a town meeting in Elkhart, Indiana, with President Obama, exploring voters' choices. In September 2015, she moderated "America After Charleston," examining the issues propelled into public discourse after a white gunman shot and killed nine African-American parishioners in Charleston, South Carolina's Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in June 2015. In September 2014, she moderated "America After Ferguson," discussing the many issues facing communities in the wake of Michael Brown's death in Ferguson, Missouri.
During the 2016 Presidential campaign season, "Washington Week" continued a tradition of special broadcasts and live audience events at the sites of the national political conventions -- Cleveland and Philadelphia -- as well as from Colorado Springs and Milwaukee. The election year road show series began in 2008 and continued in 2012 and allowed live audiences to interact with Gwen and her weekly panelists on the issues surrounding the election year. The regular broadcasts and whistle-stop series earned "Washington Week" a 2008 Peabody Award. In honoring "Washington Week" the committee cited the program for "its reasoned, reliable contribution to the national discourse," and as the gold standard "for public-affairs enthusiasts who prefer illumination to confrontational fireworks."
Before coming to PBS in 1999, Gwen was chief congressional and political correspondent for NBC News, White House correspondent for The New York Times, and a local and national political reporter for The Washington Post. She also reported for the Baltimore Evening Sun and the Boston Herald American. Gwen was also the best-selling author of "The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama" (Doubleday, 2009).
Gwen received more than 20 honorary doctorates and served on the boards of the News Literacy Project, the Committee to Protect Journalists, and she was a fellow with the American Academy of Sciences. In 2015 she was awarded with the National Press Club's highest honor, the Fourth Estate Award. She was posthumously awarded the John Chancellor Award from the Columbia University School of Journalism and the Walter Cronkite Award for Excellence from Arizona State University, which she shared with her NewsHour co-anchor Judy Woodruff. She was also honored for her work as a journalist by the Radio and Television News Directors Association, Harvard's Joan Shorenstein Center, The National Association of Black Journalists, Ohio University, Boston's Ford Hall Forum, and she was included in Ebony Magazine's list of 150 Most Influential African Americans, among many other honors.
Ifill was born in the Queens neighborhood of Jamaica in New York City,the fifth of six children of African Methodist Episcopal (AME) minister (Oliver) Urcille Ifill, Sr., a Panamanian of Barbadian descent who emigrated from Panama, and Eleanor Ifill, who was from Barbados.Her father's ministry required the family to live in several cities in New England and on the Eastern Seaboard during her youth, where he pastored AME churches. As a child, she lived in Pennsylvania and Massachusetts church parsonages and in federally-subsidized housing in Buffalo and New York City.She graduated in 1977 with a Bachelor of Arts in communications from Simmons College, a women's college in Boston,Massachusetts.Ifill died of cancer on November 14, 2016 at the age of 61.