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Fearless Afro-American foreign correspondent William Worthy dies

William Worthy at Howard University, September 2002 WALTER LIPPMANN PHOTO

William Worthy at Howard University, September 2002
WALTER LIPPMANN PHOTO

By Fern Shen
Baltimore Brew

William Worthy, a pioneering correspondent for the Baltimore Afro-American who defied the U.S. government in the Cold War era to report on Communist Cuba, China, the Soviet Union and Vietnam, died last month at the age of 92.

Worthy gained worldwide attention in 1961 when he traveled to Cuba without a passport and interviewed Fidel Castro two years after the Cuban Revolution.

He was arrested upon his return for entering the U.S. illegally, inspiring the Phil Ochs song, “The Ballad of William Worthy.”

Among the most-quoted lines:

“William Worthy isn’t worthy to enter our door,

He went down to Cuba, he’s not American anymore.

But somehow it is strange to hear the State Department say,

‘You are living in the free world, in the free world you must stay.’”

The U.S. Court of Appeals later overturned Worthy’s conviction. But in the 1980s, he again defied the federal government by reporting from Iran, after the revolution there toppled the U.S.-backed government of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.

Intelligence documents Worthy obtained and leaked to The Washington Post led to a series of exposés on U.S. activities there.

“Americans have a right to know what’s going on in the world in their name,” he told the Associated Press at the time.

U.S. officials seized one set of the documents Worthy and his colleagues had leaked to the Post.

“The journalists later reached a legal settlement with the U.S. government in which the reporters were awarded $16,000 stemming from the confiscation of the volumes,” the Post obituary reports.

Worthy, who worked for the Afro from 1953 to 1980, died on May 4 in Brewster, Mass., according to the website of the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University. (Worthy was a Nieman Foundation fellow in 1956-57.)

 

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