Broadcast legend Carole Simpson reflects on shaping history

The first Black woman to helm a major network newscast talks breaking barriers.

February 08, 2021, 10:09 PM

In the midst of Black History Month, as the nation celebrates the leaders who helped shape the country, broadcast legend Carole Simpson is opening up about breaking barriers in the broadcast industry.

In 1988, Simpson made history as the first Black woman to helm a major network newscast when she became the face of ABC News' “World News Tonight” weekend edition, which is a role she held for 15 years.

PHOTO: ABC News anchor Carole Simpson, who made history as the first Black woman to helm a major newscast, sits at the anchor desk in New York on April 12, 2002.
ABC News anchor Carole Simpson, who made history as the first Black woman to helm a major newscast, sits at the anchor desk in New York on April 12, 2002.
Virginia Sherwood/ABC

The three-time Emmy award-winning television journalist spoke to ABC News' Linsey Davis, who now holds the Sunday night anchor slot that Simpson once commanded, about paving the way for others in a male-dominated industry.

Simpson told Davis that she was proud of her for securing the position as she's had high hopes of seeing more African American women follow her lead.

“Women can do the impossible ... if you want something, you’ll do it,” Simpson told ABC News on Sunday.

In 1992, Simpson became the first minority to moderate a presidential debate, which included President George H.W. Bush, Gov. Bill Clinton, and businessman Ross Perot. She recalls working tirelessly for days prior to the debate in preparation for the historic moment.

PHOTO: ABC News anchor Carole Simpson, smiles in a file photo on Oct. 15, 1992, the day she became the first woman of color to moderate a presidential debate in the U.S.
ABC News anchor Carole Simpson, smiles in a file photo on Oct. 15, 1992, the day she became the first woman of color to moderate a presidential debate in the U.S.
Joe Marquette/AP, FILE

In her memoir titled "NewsLady," she details how she overcame both sexual discrimination and racism before reaching the top ranks of the industry.

The 79-year-old, who reported during the height of the civil rights movement, which includes covering and meeting Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., believes that America’s racial reckoning last June following the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police was short-lived.

“Just look at where we are now,” Simpson told ABC News. “We are so divided and I think the race question is right back here. ... we’ve had many Black men killed since George Floyd.”

As someone who reported on politics and frequently worked at the U.S. Capitol building, Simpson says that the deadly riot last month was something that “really shook” her.

“I think the damage that was done by Donald Trump to the nation is not insurmountable, but it’s going to be hard ... to put all the pieces he tried to shatter,” Simpson said.

Simpson, who grew up as a curious child on the South Side of Chicago, said that it took “sheer determination” to carve out her own path and follow her dream of working in news.

After attending the University of Michigan, she went to graduate school at the University of Iowa. After college, she quickly went on to leave her mark in her hometown of Chicago by becoming the first woman to broadcast radio news and the first Black woman to anchor a local newscast.

After working in the business for 40 years, she retired in 2006 and taught journalism courses at Emerson College in Boston for 13 years.

Today, Simpson is still making a difference in the industry by offering scholarships to journalism students and mentoring youth across the country.

Additionally, she offers advice to women through her vlog titled W.O.W. (Wise Old Woman) –– a platform where she's become a one-woman production band by producing digital content from her home.

“I want my legacy to be that she made a difference,” Simpson said.

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