By Matt Schudel
William Raspberry, a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for The Washington Post whose fiercely independent views illuminated conflicts concerning education, poverty, crime and race, and who was one of the first black journalists to gain a wide following in the mainstream press, died July 17 at his home in Washington. He was 76.
He had prostate cancer, said his wife, Sondra Raspberry.
Mr. Raspberry wrote an opinion column for The Post for nearly 40 years before retiring in 2005. More than 200 newspapers carried his syndicated columns, which were filtered through the prism of his experience growing up in the segregated South.
His writings were often provocative but seldom predictable. Although he considered himself a liberal, Mr. Raspberry often bucked many of the prevailing pieties of liberal orthodoxy. He favored integration but opposed busing children to achieve racial balance. He supported gun control but — during a time when the District seemed to be a free-fire zone for drug sellers — he could understand the impulse to shoot back.
When strident voices were shouting for attention, Mr. Raspberry often favored a moderate tone. He did not consider himself a political partisan and even stopped appearing on argumentative news-talk shows because, as he said in 2006, “they force you to pretend to be mad even when you’re not.”
Instead of following other pundits to Capitol Hill, Mr. Raspberry looked at another side of Washington: the problems facing ordinary people, sometimes voiced through an imaginary D.C. cabdriver — simply called “the cabbie” — who was a recurring figure in his columns.
“From the day Bill Raspberry wrote his first Post column, his advice was as wise and his voice as clear as anyone’s in Washington,” Donald E. Graham, chairman of The Washington Post Co., said in an interview. “To the city, Bill’s columns brought 40 years of smart, independent judgment.”
Mr. Raspberry stood slightly apart from the civil rights movement of the 1960s, which he viewed not as a participant but from the detached perspective of a reporter. Because his views did not always conform to his readers’ expectations, he received pointed criticism from the right and the left.
“He was viewed as a truth-teller,” Vernon E. Jordan Jr., a lawyer, civil rights advocate and political adviser, said in an interview. “I am sure that I disagreed with him on a number of things. He had a way of telling you to go to hell and making you look forward to the trip.”
Self-reliance and education
Mr. Raspberry derived some of his core principles from a bedrock belief in self-reliance and the importance of education. He often cited the example of his parents, both of whom were teachers. He challenged prominent civil rights figures to put their words into action to help build a better world for the poor and disenfranchised.
“Education is the one best hope black Americans have for a decent future,” Mr. Raspberry wrote in a 1982 column. “The civil rights leadership, for all its emphasis on desegregating schools, has done very little to improve them.”
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