William Worthy

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William Worthy
File:William Worthy.jpg
Born July 7, 1921 (1921-07-07)
Boston, Massachusetts, USA
Died May 4, 2014 (2014-05-05) (aged 92)
Brewster, Massachusetts
Cause of death Alzheimer's disease
Education Bates College
Occupation Journalist

William Worthy, Jr. (July 7, 1921 – May 4, 2014) was an African-American journalist, civil rights activist, and dissident who pressed his right to travel regardless of U.S. State Department regulations.


Born in Boston, Massachusetts,[1] Worthy is a graduate of Boston Latin High School, and received a B.A. degree in sociology from Bates College, Lewiston, Maine, in 1942. Worthy was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University, class of 1957.

Right to travel controversies

Worthy traveled to China (1956–57) and Cuba (1961) in violation of United States State Department travel regulations. At the time he entered China, Worthy was the first American reporter to visit and broadcast from there since the country's communist revolution in 1949.[2] While in China Worthy interviewed Samuel David Hawkins, an American soldier who was captured by the Chinese during the Korean War and defected to China in 1953.[3] His passport was seized upon his return to the U.S. from China and American lawyers Leonard Boudin and William Kunstler represented Worthy in an unsuccessful lawsuit seeking the return of his passport. Without a passport, Worthy traveled to Cuba in the early days of Fidel Castro to report on the Cuban revolution, and upon his return to the U.S. he was tried and convicted for "returning to the United States without a valid passport." Worthy was again represented by Kunstler, who successfully persuaded a federal appeals court to overturn Worthy's conviction. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit found the restrictions unconstitutional. The court held that the government could not make it a crime under the Constitution to return home without a passport. Years later, Kunstler wrote in his autobiography, My Life As A Radical Lawyer, that the Worthy passport case was his "first experience arguing an issue about which I felt passionate," was the "first time I had ever invalidated a statute," and that success "confirmed my faith in the justice system."[4]

Folksinger Phil Ochs wrote a song called "The Ballad of William Worthy" about Worthy's trip to Cuba and its consequences.

The Committee for the Freedom of William Worthy was formed in 1962 and was chaired by A. Phillip Randolph and Bishop D. Ward Nichols.

Worthy was a conscientious objector in World War II, and in 1954 he voiced early opposition to American involvement in Vietnam after he visited Indo-China in 1953.

Civil rights activist

During the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, Worthy was a civil rights activist, and in the early 1960s he was an outspoken critic of the civil rights movement for not going far enough to achieve civil rights in housing and all areas of American life. William Worthy was one of the most important political allies of Malcolm X. In the late 1960s, Worthy organized a rent strike against a Catholic hospital in New York City that attempted to tear down Worthy's apartment building and turn it into a parking lot. Worthy later wrote about those experiences in a critically acclaimed book, The Rape of Our Neighborhoods, published in 1976.

The late psychologist Kenneth B. Clark said of Worthy: "The Bill Worthys of our society provide the moral fuel necessary to prevent the flickering conscience of our society from going out."


Worthy was a reporter for the Baltimore Afro-American on and off from 1953 to 1980. He wrote a column and covered revolutions in Iran, Cuba, and China. Although a supporter of Malcolm X, he was critical of the Black Panthers in a 1969 column for "gratuitous and indiscriminate" 'Uncle Tom' attacks on virtually all the black bourgeoise" and their exposure to law enforcement due to "sloppy, inefficient, undisciplined organizational follow-through".[5]

Worthy continued to work in the field of journalism and in the 1970s he was appointed as head of the African American journalism program at Boston University. However, the BU president, John Silber, removed Worthy as head of the program after Worthy criticized the BU administration and he supported BU campus workers who were attempting to unionize.

In 1981, the luggage of Worthy and two other journalists working with him, Terri Taylor and Randy Goodman, was seized by the FBI and CIA on their return from Iran; and they subsequently won a suit on Fourth Amendment grounds.[6]

Following his BU appointment, Worthy taught journalism at UMass Boston. William Worthy and Michael Lindsey co-taught the first class in Critical Journalism in the country at the College of Public and Community service, a branch of UMass Boston. Noam Chomsky was a guest lecturer.

William Worthy also taught at Howard University in the 1980s and 1990s and held the Anneberg Chair. During most of the 1990s until 2005, Worthy lived in Washington, D.C., where he served as a special assistant to the dean of the School of Communications at Howard U. and served on the board of directors of the National Whistleblower Center.

On February 22, 2008, the Nieman Foundation honored Worthy with the prestigious Louis M. Lyons Award.[7]


Worthy died in Brewster, Massachusetts on May 4, 2014 at the age of 92, of Alzheimer's disease.[8]


  • The Vanguard: A photographic essay on the Black Panthers, by Ruth-Marion Baruch, Parkle Jones, and William Worthy (Paperback - January 18, 1970).
  • The Rape of Our Neighborhoods: And How Communities Are Resisting Take-Overs by Colleges, Hospitals, Churches, Businesses, and Public Agencies, by William, Worthy (Hardcover – 1976) (Paperback - April 1977).
  • Interview with Prince Sihanouk, by William Worthy (Unknown Binding - 1965).
  • The story of the two first colored nurses to train in Boston City Hospital, Boston, Mass., by William Worthy (Unknown Binding - 1942) written by his Father, Dr. William Worthy, who arranged for their entrance to Nurses' training.
  • Our disgrace in Indo-China, by William Worthy (Unknown Binding - 1954).
  • Pampered dictators and neglected cities: The Philippine connection, by William Worthy (Unknown Binding - 1978).
  • The Silent Slaughter: The Role Of The United States In The Indonesian Massacre, by Eric Norden, William Worthy, Andrew March, and Mark Lane (Youth Against War & Fascism) Norden (Pamphlet - 1967).


  1. Directory, Foreign Area Fellows - Volume 3. Foreign Area Fellowship Program. 1973. p. 14.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. The Press: Ban Broken. 07 January 1957.
  3. "Seven Out, Fourteen to Go!", Washington Afro-American, 1957-03-05, retrieved 2010-12-31<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Kunstler, William M., My Life As A Radical Lawyer, pp. 95-97 (Birch Lane Press 1994).
  5. Militants being killed, jailed or forced to run. Worthy, William. Afro-American (1893-1988). Baltimore, Md. 08 Mar. 1969: 1.
  6. McKibben, William E. (January 20, 1982). "3 Journalists To Sue FBI On Confiscation". The Harvard Crimson. Retrieved May 11, 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. "Reclaiming a gallant voice - The Boston Globe". Boston.com. Retrieved 2014-05-13.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. "William Worthy, defiant journalist, dies at 92". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2014-05-13.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links