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‘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.
"I grew up in apartheid," he told the News & Record of Greensboro, N.C., in 1996. "And yet it never induced my parents to teach us anything else than that we were responsible for our own behavior, for our own minds."
Raspberry left Mississippi to attend Indiana Central College (now the University of Indianapolis). In college, he worked at the Indianapolis Recorder, a weekly newspaper geared toward black audiences.
After serving as a public information officer with the Army, Raspberry was hired as a teletype operator by The Post in 1962. Within months, he began working as one of the first black reporters for the newspaper’s Metro desk.
Seeking a way to stand out, he recalled in a 2005 interview with NPR, "I started asking myself, ‘What is it I know that the other guys don’t know? What am I better at?’ And my thought was that I’ve had a couple decades being black, and they haven’t."
Raspberry made a name for himself in 1965, when The Post dispatched him to cover riots in the Watts section of Los Angeles. A year later, he was a columnist.
After the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. on April 4, 1968, Raspberry wrote a series of dispatches from the strife-torn streets of Washington, chronicling a city on fire.
Raspberry was known as a careful monitor of racial politics, but some readers were incensed in 1990, when he appeared to voice grudging respect for the polarizing Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan. A year earlier, Raspberry had excoriated what he called the "gratuitous antisemitism" of Farrakhan and some of his supporters.
"Blacks in particular are at pains to force America to face up to racism, blatant and subtle," Raspberry wrote. "Is it too much to suggest that those who demand sensitivity have a duty to practice it?"
Survivors include Raspberry’s wife of 45 years, Sondra Dodson Raspberry of Washington; three children, Patricia D. Raspberry and Mark J. Raspberry, both of Washington, and Angela Raspberry Jackson of Detroit; a foster son, Reginald Harrison of Manassas; his 106-year-old mother, Willie Mae Tucker Raspberry of Indianapolis; a sister; and a brother.
Raspberry taught journalism for more than 10 years at Duke University and received more than 15 honorary doctorates. A collection of his columns, "Looking Back at Us," was published in 1991, and in 2004 he received the Fourth Estate Award, the highest honor of the National Press Club.
In retirement, Raspberry devoted much of his time to an educational foundation, Baby Steps, that he organized in his hometown in Mississippi. He funded the project for low-income parents and children from his own pocket.
After writing more than 5,000 opinion columns, Raspberry said in a speech at the University of Virginia in 2006, he had learned two important lessons.
The first, he said, "is that in virtually every public controversy, most thoughtful people secretly believe both sides.
"The second, which has kept my confidence from turning into arrogance, is that it is entirely possible for you to disagree with me without being, on that account, either a scoundrel or a fool."
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