George McElroy, a pioneering black columnist and journalism teacher, has died from acute respiratory distress syndrome at age 84.
McElroy died Saturday at a Houston hospital.
“He paved the way for a lot of other people to get through doors that just weren’t open before he got there,” said state Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston. “He did it in such a quiet and unassuming way.”
During his journalism career, McElroy became the first black to earn a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and the first black columnist to write for the former Houston Post.
“The world, the nation, the state, the city are all multicolored, as in a rainbow and multiracial,” he wrote in a column for the Post in the 1970s. “A professional journalist simply cannot afford to reside in a racial-isolation ward. He must travel and he must converse and he must observe and he must be curious.”
After earning his masters’ degree, McElroy became the first black with a journalism degree to teach journalism in Houston high schools. He later taught at the University of Houston and Texas Southern University.
“He didn’t have a pretentious bone in his body,” said Serbino Sandifer-Walker, a former student who now serves as president of the Houston Association of Black Journalists.
“He was such a generous, kind and overwhelming person: a man who would allow you to be yourself.”
McElroy got his first newspaper job at 16, writing a youth column for the Informer, Houston’s oldest black newspaper.
He served in the Navy in World War II and the Korean War before earning a bachelor’s degree at Texas Southern. A Wall Street Journal scholarship sent him to the University of Missouri journalism school for his master’s degree.
He returned to Houston to work as a professor and continued to write for the Informer and the Post, where he covered sports and later became a columnist. In his column, he profiled all types of people, most of them black, ranging from barbers to beauty queens.
During his career, he interviewed Martin Luther King Jr. and Fidel Castro. He collected numerous honors, including a lifetime achievement award from the Houston Association of Black Journalists that he accepted last week.
Sonceria Messiah-Jiles, publisher of the Houston Defender, said she planned to attend law school until she took McElroy’s journalism class at the University of Houston.
“He did have a pride and a need to promote the positiveness of African-Americans,” she said. “His articles were the only exposure the general market had to a black perspective back in the time when very few people had the opportunity or the access to hear the other side.”
McElroy is survived by three siblings, five daughters and numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren.