Remembering a Courageous Journalist

Illustration for article titled Remembering a Courageous Journalist

David W. Hardy, one of four plaintiffs in a groundbreaking and successful racial-discrimination suit filed in the 1980s against the New York Daily News, was buried Thursday. He died on Jan. 14 of a heart attack at age 68. After a grueling trial that was closely watched by both black journalists and white news organizations, the 1987 jury verdict ordered the newspaper to hire and promote black reporters and editors. The verdict affected media outlets across the country. (After the jury verdict, the plaintiffs also negotiated a payment of $3.1 million in damages from the newspaper.)


At 6 feet 4, Hardy was enormous in both physical stature and in his relentless commitment to the fight against racism and injustice in journalism. He refused to settle quietly or to be intimidated during the years the suit dragged on. Other plaintiffs were copy editor Causewell Vaughan; Steven W. Duncan, an assistant news editor; and Joan Shepard, Manhattan cultural-affairs editor.

When the suit was filed, there were few black reporters or editors at the Daily News, black reporters were given the worst assignments and no black employee had ever been promoted to a management position on the newspaper's editorial side. Les Payne — a friend of Hardy's, a co-founder of the National Association of Black Journalists, a former columnist and editor at Newsday, and an expert witness for the plaintiffs in the trial — has characterized the Daily News as "the only major American newspaper convicted of racism in a court of law."

In 1993 Hardy lost his job when Mortimer B. Zuckerman, owner of U.S. News & World Report, bought the Daily News and eliminated 34 percent of the jobs covered by the Newspaper Guild. The three other plaintiffs had previously left the newspaper.

Those who knew and worked with Hardy remember him as a fearless fighter, a gentle soul and a great raconteur. Susan S. Singer was a young lawyer working in the office of famed attorney Ray Brown, the original attorney on the case, when she met Hardy. His experience as a reporter and in covering courts made him invaluable to the plaintiffs.

"He could identify other reporters hired about the time he was, who didn't have any more awards or accolades or recognition, who were given the best assignments, nurtured, who started moving up," she recalled. "None of that was happening for him or other blacks. That's the kind of information a lawyer often has to find out after hundreds of hours, but he had it before we started. He was indefatigable. He literally called every single day for years, and when a client does that, you work harder."

"There's a saying about who you'd want in a foxhole in battle, and I would want Dave," said Vaughan, now an editor for the Challenge Group, a group of Brooklyn, N.Y.-based black newspapers. "David had your front, he had your back, he had no B.S. about him. When he said something, it was something that he meant. And he had a courageous character. He was our quarterback. He found out so many things that were instrumental in our winning that case, information in areas that none of us would have ventured into. He was just genuine."


"He loved a good story — liked to hear them and tell them — and, like all great reporters, loved the characters he encountered doing his work," said the writer Thulani Davis, a longtime friend. "He was one of the old-school warriors: worked hard, fought hard, partied hard, got up the next day and did the same thing."

Journalist Earl Caldwell, a friend for 50 years, remembered that when Hardy arrived at the Daily News, the sports department refused to take him because he was black: "He went up against the largest, most powerful media corporation in America, and he beat them, because he was right — and because everything he ever did, he kept a record," Caldwell added.


There were only a handful of people under age 50 at Hardy's funeral, held at the Rose of Sharon Community Church in Plainfield, N.J. Absent was the younger generation of journalists who have been beneficiaries of Hardy's courage. Of the four plaintiffs, the only survivor is Vaughan. Hardy had been out of the business for years, in no small measure part of the price this David paid for taking on that media Goliath.

Pamela Newkirk, a professor of journalism at New York University who wrote about the case and the plaintiffs in her 2000 book, Within the Veil: Black Journalists, White Media, described the suit as "a balm for the spirit. It defied the normal script. It took the long and sordid secret of newsroom racial bias out of the closet. It meant a lot to see these four courageous people fight, not just for themselves, but for far more than their own individual advancement, and for that we all owe them."


Sadly, with the shrinking of traditional journalism, there are fewer jobs, and dramatically fewer black journalists working in the industry. Indications are that the Internet is more segregated than legacy media. "The media battles have shifted. Traditional media has shrunk drastically," said Wayne Dawkins, a journalism professor at Hampton University and the author of several books on 20th-century black journalists. "Leading Internet companies that replaced them are willfully excluding journalists of color; managements resist showing their hiring numbers, and then they protest when we expose their whitewashes."

Newkirk recalled that Hardy called her up after he read her book. "David resisted the characterization of him and the three other plaintiffs as tragic heroes, but in the end it's kind of hard to get away from the toll that it took on them," she said. "Their lives, their careers, were never the same. There was no Hollywood ending. There were no book deals, there were no movie deals, there were none of the things that should come to heroes. When you speak out, you're kind of alone.”


She added, "What's sad is that the poster children for black journalists are Janet Cooke and Jayson Blair, when they should be David Hardy and Ida B. Wells." Hardy's passing, besides being a great loss to his family and friends, reminds us that unless we choose our memories and our heroes, they will be chosen for us. As Causewell Vaughan said simply, "Every time a person of color breaks through that glass ceiling in journalism, they have David Hardy to thank.”

Jill Nelson is a New York-based writer.