Story at a glance
- The broadcast journalist paved many firsts as a black woman in the television industry.
- Ifill died in 2016 at 61 due to endometrial cancer.
- She will be remembered with a USPS Forever stamp as well as Gwen Ifill day in D.C.
Gwen Ifill is no stranger to history.
In 1999, Ifill became the first Black woman to host a nationally televised U.S. public affairs program as the anchor of Washington Week in Review on PBS. In 2013, she joined Judy Woodruff as part of the first all-women team to anchor a national nightly news hour as co-host of PBS Newshour.
And in 2020, Ifill will be remembered by the U.S. Postal Service with a Forever stamp as part of the USPS Black Heritage series.
— Margaret Myers (@margaretvm) January 28, 2020
The fifth of six children of an African Methodist Episcopal minister, she attended the Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church in D.C., where the dedication ceremony took place on Jan. 30. D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser declared that date Gwen Ifill Day.
In the company of prominent, deceased black leaders such as Booker T. Washington, Thurgood Marshall and Ella Fitzgerald, Ifill will continue her legacy as an inspiration to other aspiring journalists.
After becoming the first African American woman to moderate a vice-presidential debate in 2004, her objectivity was questioned four years later, during President Barack Obama’s campaign. She had written a book about him that critics pointed to as a conflict of interest.
“I’m still capable of looking at his pros and cons in a political sense,” Ifill told the Washington Post at the time. “No one’s ever assumed a white reporter can’t cover a white candidate.”
Indeed, her credentials included newspapers in Boston and Baltimore, as well as the New York Times, the Washington Post and NBC. Woodruff would describe her as a combination of authority and warmth.
“She didn’t mind telling anyone when she thought they were wrong, on camera. She kept it respectful. She was one of the most graceful interrupters I have ever seen,” Woodruff told the Washington Post.
Broadcast journalist Melba Tolliver was a role model for Ifill while she was growing up.
“She had a big Afro and when we turned on our black-and-white set, there she was,” she said in an interview at the University of Virginia. “I’ve never met her. All I know is that she left a very big impression upon me because I didn’t want to be in television, but here was a black woman asking the questions.”
Ifill’s own legacy has inspired future generations. After her death in 2016, the International Women’s Media Foundation created a mentorship program in her name.
Mary Williams, a Gwen Ifill fellow from Cincinnati, Ohio, said in a letter, “Seeing you on the news made me realize you did it so I can do it. You paved the way for me so I can pave the way for others.”