July 19, 2012
William Raspberry, who became the second black columnist to win a Pulitzer Prize for his widely read syndicated commentaries in The Washington Post, died Tuesday July 17. He was 76.
Raspberry had prostate cancer and died at his home in Washington, his wife, Sondra Raspberry, told The Post. A Post spokeswoman confirmed his death.
Raspberry, who grew up in segregated Mississippi, wrote an opinion column for the Post for nearly 40 years. More than 200 newspapers carried his column in syndication before he retired in 2005.
He won the Pulitzer for commentary in 1994. His columns often dealt with urban violence, the legacies of civil rights leaders and female genital mutilation in Africa.
Raspberry started at The Post in 1962 as a teletype operator and began working as a reporter within months. In 1965, he covered the riots in the Watts section of Los Angeles, and he began writing a column on local matters a year later.
At the time, the only nationally syndicated black columnist in the mainstream media was Carl Rowan. Raspberry’s column moved to The Post’s op-ed page in 1970.
“Bill Raspberry inspired a rising generation of African-American columnists and commentators who followed in his path, including me,” said Clarence Page, a Pulitzer-winning columnist with the Chicago Tribune.
Although he considered himself a liberal, Raspberry’s moderate, nuanced positions on issues including civil rights and gun control garnered criticism from both the right and the left. He was especially concerned with the problems of ordinary people. He told Editor & Publisher magazine in 1994 that reporters could “care about the people they report on and still retain the capacity to tell the story straight.”
He taught journalism for more than 10 years at Duke University. A collection of his columns, “Looking Back at Us,” was published in 1991.
The son of two teachers, Raspberry was born in 1935 in the northeastern Mississippi town of Okolona. He attended Indiana Central College, now the University of Indianapolis, and joined The Post after a stint as a public information officer with the Army.