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Black History Month: Celebrating George Barbour, KDKA Radio's First Black Reporter

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- As Black History Month comes to a close, KDKA honors a pioneer.

Investigative reporter George Barbour embodied the meaning of advocacy journalism while breaking more than just news.

George Barbour
(Photo Credit: "George Barbour/Journalist"/Ken Love)

KDKA's Meghan Schiller reacquaints us with the Pittsburgh reporter who opened doors for future generations, including two well-known KDKA journalists.

"I think we all stand on his shoulders. He was fair, he was balanced, he was inquisitive," said Chris Moore of KDKA Radio.

Standing with a pen in one hand and a notebook in the other, Barbour captured history.

"He was a good writer and a good speaker. Those are the things that it took then and those are the things that it takes now," said Moore.

He graduated salutatorian from Oakdale High School in 1944 before duty called. With dreams of becoming a fighter pilot cut short, he earned his diploma at the University of Pittsburgh's School of Journalism. He talked about his job search in a documentary recently released by Ken Love called "George Barbour: Journalist."

"I bought myself a little $98 Argo Flex," said Barbour while explaining how he got started in photojournalism.

He called it "Black Yankee Ingenuity," eventually landing gigs at the Baltimore and Richmond Afro-American papers. He then returned to The Pittsburgh Courier in 1953 and was later hired as the first black reporter at KDKA Radio.

"He practiced a different type of journalism in those years, you had to be involved," said Moore. "You were fair and balanced, but you had to be involved in it. but you put your life at risk, and he did several times."

Moore and KDKA-TV's Harold Hayes said Barbour "planted the seed" and showed them that they could pursue this life work.

"For all that's going on today, it's really timely to think about what it was for him to get into the business when he did," said Hayes.

Barbour kept raising his hand, even asking to cover the civil rights movement's Selma to Montgomery March.

In Ken Love's documentary, Barbour recalls the moment he asked his boss to go.

"He said, 'You go? They'll kill a white reporter. You, they'll tar and feather,'" Barbour said.

"Just those words 'I'll go,' pretty much saying I know what the risks are. The risks are inherent, but it's the issue that compels him to want to go," said Hayes.

During Barbour's KDKA Radio report, he's heard saying, "In the 1965 civil rights war, Negroes, newsmen and Northerners are hated, and I am all three."

From 1964 to 1972, Barbour covered it all, including Martin Luther King Jr. and the Watts riots.

"He had to overcome the basic 'Can a black person do a job that traditionally is something that is assigned to white people?'" said Hayes.

Moore remembers the moment Barbour handed over the tape from Selma.

"It was just covered in dust and I took it took our engineers and we were blowing dust off," said Moore. "We managed to get one good pass and record it and then I got to play some of that on the program and interview him and my heart was just pounding at the risk that he took to bring back the story."

Encouraging all future journalists to break down barriers and keep saying, "I'll go."

"I think anyone who's been in the field as long as Harold and I have always had those moments and I think of Mr. Barbour, who would always tell me keep on keeping on," said Moore.

Barbour will turn 95 years old in June. He lives in Bridgeville with his family.


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