Earl Caldwell

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Earl Caldwell is a nationally-renowned journalist whose career spans more than four decades. He currently holds three titles. At Hampton University he is the Scripps Howard endowed professor of journalism. In New York City, he is host and producer of the Pacifica radio broadcast, "The Caldwell Chronicle." His other title is that of oral historian, a position he holds with the Robert C. Maynard Institute for Journalism Education where he directs the History Project.

As a journalist, Earl Caldwell was the central figure in one of the century's most celebrated cases involving reporters' rights.

In its 1972 "Branzburg" decision, the Supreme Court of the United States, defining reporter's rights, considered three cases. The central case in that -- United States v. Caldwell --involved New York Times reporter Earl Caldwell and his refusal to appear before a federal grand jury and disclose confidential information involving his sources in the Black Panther party. In a historic ruling, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit supported Caldwell's position. That decision was reversed with the "Branzburg" ruling. However, for Caldwell, that 5-4 decision remains tainted, as the deciding vote was cast by then Associate Justice William Rehnquist who, as a U.S. Justice Department lawyer, had been intimately involved in the Caldwell case.

As a journalist, Caldwell covered many of the events that shaped a tumultuous era in American history.

  • He was the lone reporter to witness the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis in April of 1968.
  • As a New York Times reporter, he went coast-to-coast to cover the riots that swept black America in the summers of 1967 and 1968.
  • He was a reporter on the streets of Chicago in 1968, covering the "riots" as the police challenged demonstrators during the Democratic National convention.
  • He covered the trial of Angela Davis, the black scholar accused of a central role in the murder of a Marin County, Calif., judge during an escape attempt from San Quentin Prison.
  • He spent months in Atlanta covering the child murders and the subsequent trial of convicted killer Wayne Williams.
  • He traveled the campaign trail with the Rev. Jesse Jackson during his historic run for the presidency in 1984.
  • In Africa, he covered the fall of the white regime and election of the first black government in Zimbabwe.

In New York City, Caldwell broke a barrier in 1979 in becoming the first black journalist to write a regular column in a major daily newspaper. His three-times-a-week column appeared in the Daily News for 12 years. His book, Black American Witness, Reports from the Front, is a compilation from his newspaper column.

In 1995, in presenting him with its prestigious President's award, the National Association of Black Journalists characterized Caldwell as "one of the most important journalists of the last 50 years." A year earlier, the New York chapter of NABJ presented him with a lifetime achievement award. Caldwell's writing on African issues and his reporting at the United Nations earned him recognition from the Global Concerns Committee at the U.N. where was a longtime member of the U.N. Correspondent's Association.

Caldwell is a native of Clearfield, a small town in central Pennsylvania. He received his early training there under the late George A. Scott, longtime editor of The Progress, a daily published in Clearfield. In journalism, Caldwell describes himself as "a newspaperman." After his first job at The Progress, he moved to the Intelligencer-Journal in Lancaster, Pa. and then, the Democrat and Chronicle in Rochester, N.Y., before arriving at the Herald Tribune in New York City in 1965. After the Herald Tribune closed and after a brief stint at the New York Post, he joined The New York Times in the spring of 1967.

Caldwell launched the History Project at the Maynard Institute with "The Caldwell Journals," an online serial that is a personal account of the black journalists' movement. At Hampton University he is now compiling an oral history of those black reporters who rose to prominence with their coverage of "the black revolution" of the late 1960s and 1970s. Caldwell is oral historian for the project.

The "Caldwell Chronicle" radio program (Friday 3-5 p.m.) originates at WBAI (99.5 FM), the Pacifica radio outlet in New York, and can be heard live over the Internet (www.wbai.org).

Caldwell, who lives in New York City, is a founding member of the steering committee of the Washington-based Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. He is also a founding director of the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education.