When Mr. Raspberry began writing a column on local matters for The Post in 1966, the only nationally syndicated black columnist in the general press was Carl T. Rowan. In 1970, Mr. Raspberry’s column moved to the paper’s op-ed page.
“Bill Raspberry inspired a rising generation of African American columnists and commentators who followed in his path, including me,” Clarence Page, a Pulitzer-winning columnist with the Chicago Tribune, told The Post. He added that Mr. Raspberry and Rowan “blazed a trail for the rest of us, not only as journalists but as voices of courage against the narrow ideologies of the left or right.”
As a columnist, Mr. Raspberry disagreed with the journalistic credo of “cynical coldheartedness masquerading as objectivity,” he told Editor & Publisher magazine in 1994. Instead, he believed members of the press could “care about the people they report on and still retain the capacity to tell the story straight.”
When Mr. Raspberry won the Pulitzer for commentary in 1994, he was the second African American columnist to achieve the honor. (Page was the first, in 1989.) Mr. Raspberry’s Pulitzer-winning columns covered a range of topics, from female genital mutilation in Africa to urban violence, to musings on the legacies of civil rights leaders.
Mr. Raspberry drew analogies between Somalia, where U.S. troops were deployed at the time, and violent sections of the District, where — as in Mogadishu — heavily armed young men in fast vehicles controlled vast stretches of the city.
“How different are parts of Somalia from parts of the United States?” he wrote. “And how much more like Somalia would the United States become if the gun-rights people have their way?”
In another column, Mr. Raspberry appeared, at first glance, to deliver a rant about hip-hop music. But he made an unexpected turn, showing how tastes in music reflected the changing realities of young people’s lives.
“My children . . . easily tick off four, five, six friends who have died in the past few years,” he wrote. “Three were homicides — shot down either over drugs or over some offense that would have cost a member of my generation a bloody nose at most.
. . .
And we worry about song lyrics?”
‘I grew up in apartheid’
William James Raspberry was born Oct. 12, 1935, in the northeastern Mississippi town of Okolona. He was one of five children of James and Willie Mae Raspberry. His father taught shop and his mother taught English at a high school and a two-year college for African American students. He often cited his parents and the small academy in Okolona as crucial influences on his life.