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These Kansans were trailblazers in journalism

Julie Doll
Special to Gannett Kansas

Even before Kansas became a state on Jan. 29, 1861, journalists and editors were reporting stories about their communities’ development and challenges, such as the bloody, divisive fight over slavery.

Over the decades, the state has produced lots of great journalists, including many who worked in Kansas and some who left.

In honor of Kansas Day, here are snippets about three extraordinary journalists who hailed from Kansas.

Peggy Hull

The first woman accredited by the United States as a war correspondent was born Henrietta Eleanor Goodnough on a farm near Bennington, Kansas, in 1889.

Before she was 30 she had worked for newspapers in Kansas, Colorado, Minnesota, Hawaii and California.

She had also covered the U.S. Army’s pursuit of Pancho Villa along the Texas-Mexico border in 1916, although the military would not allow her to travel with Army troops. In 1917, she traveled to Paris to cover World War I, although the War Department refused her credentials because she was a woman.

She did, however, use connections she had forged while in Texas to gain access to training bases in Europe. Her reports were so popular that jealous male reporters in Paris complained until authorities withdrew her access to troops.

Hull didn’t give up. She traveled back to the United States, and she won accreditation in 1918. She went on to cover Japan’s attack on Shanghai, China, in 1932, and to serve as a World War II correspondent in the Pacific theater.

She died in 1967 in California.

William Allen White

Like many newspaper owners of his time, William Allen White was an active politician.

He used the Emporia Gazette, which he bought in 1895 for $3,000, to criticize Democrats, Populists, racists and regressive policies. He battled the Ku Klux Klan and promoted Republicans such as Teddy Roosevelt.

He actively worked to elect Republicans in Kansas and nationally from the 1890s to the end of his life. But he ran for governor as an independent in 1924 because the GOP nominee was too cozy with the Klan.

He won a Pulitzer prize for a 1923 editorial about free speech.

Although a staunch Republican, partisan loyalty did not blind him to the principles he valued in himself and his country.

In 1940, he helped found and served as a leader of the Committee to Defend America by Aiding the Allies, a bipartisan organization that promoted support in the U.S. for nations battling Germany’s Nazi forces.

He died in 1944 at the age of 75.

Gordon Parks

Most people don’t think of Gordon Parks as a journalist, but as a photographer, a movie director, composer, writer or artist.

But it was as a photographer that he came to understand himself. And it was as a photo-journalist that he first helped others understand the world.

Whether he was shooting Black Panthers, children in poverty or celebrities, Parks produced remarkable work, not just technically, but with an empathetic eye that captured the dignity of people and the complexity of situations.

Gordon Parks was born in Fort Scott in 1912 and left home as a teenager.

He bought his first camera from a pawn shop, and he scraped by working jobs for department stores and newspapers.

By the time he became the first black photographer to work for Life in 1948, he already was a national talent. When he became the first black to direct a major motion picture 20 years later, he was not just breaking down barriers, but creating new genres for storytellers.

He died in 2006, leaving a legacy of pictures, books, paintings, poetry, movies and music.

A native of Garden City, Julie Doll is a former journalist who has worked at newspapers across Kansas.