By Rob Taylor Jr. – Courier Staff Writer
“There’s one of them. He’s alone. Let’s get him.”
At that exact moment in time, March of 1965, just a few months shy of his 39th birthday, George Barbour was, in fact, alone. The former Pittsburgh Courier city editor, who later became the first Black reporter for KDKA Radio, had just finished a 15-minute report/conversation via telephone with anchor Bill Steinbach, for KDKA Radio’s massive audience. After all, it was the biggest story in the world — the Selma March, in Selma, Ala., and Barbour was the only Black radio reporter at the march.
As Barbour, outfitted with 30 pounds worth of radio equipment, attempted to catch up with the marchers who had long passed while Barbour was doing his radio report, a group of Caucasians with bad intentions spotted the veteran newsman. Barbour recalled in an interview with KDKA-TV’s Lynne Hayes-Freeland that one of them mouthed, “There’s one of them. He’s alone. Let’s get him.”
But they soon found out that they picked the wrong African American to mess with.
“I let them know as I was running down the road…I am not one of the non-violent kind. If somebody gets me, whoever it is, somebody’s going to go down with me,” Barbour said in the 1990 interview. “And lo and behold, I guess I was traveling pretty fast. I used to be a good football player…”
Finally, Barbour caught up with the rest of the marchers. “And lo and behold, almost like Hollywood, I saw around the curve in the road, the backs of the troops, the bayonets and so forth, and it was a happy sight, and I hit that line like Jim Brown, went right through it,” Barbour said. “But I was able to get the reports in.”
George Barbour, for this and numerous other reasons, will always be a trailblazer, a legend in the field of journalism, media and the Civil Rights movement. The trifecta of Selma to Montgomery protest marches in 1965 came with it a series of injustices, including beatings and murders. But Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Amelia Boynton, Frederick Reese, Stokely Carmichael and others ultimately won their non-violent fight, for voting rights and more, for African Americans. A few months later, the 1965 Voting Rights Act was passed and became federal law.
George E. Barbour died at UPMC Mercy Hospital on Tuesday, March 28. He was 96.
Barbour grew up in Oakdale, and graduated from Oakdale High School in 1944. Following high school, Barbour joined the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II, rising to the rank of sergeant. He also was editor of the MacDill Field (Tampa, Fla.) base daily news bulletin.
Barbour later graduated from the University of Pittsburgh in 1951 with a degree in journalism. Barbour’s unparalleled journey in journalism and reporting took him to Black newspapers in Baltimore and Richmond. But he soon found himself back home, as an investigative reporter and city editor for the Pittsburgh Courier, where he spent 10 years. At the Courier, Barbour wasn’t afraid to delve into Pittsburgh’s White neighborhoods such as Troy Hill and Carrick to gauge the housing and employment opportunities there, compared with those found in the Black neighborhoods.
In 1964, Barbour became KDKA Radio’s first Black reporter. The July 8, 1964, edition of “Variety” magazine read, “Geo. Barbour, as KDKA’s 1st Negro In 43 Years, Gets to Core of Things.” Some of the more memorable assignments Barbour covered for KDKA Radio included the “Miracle of Hominy Falls” mine disaster in West Virginia, and of course, the Selma to Montgomery Marches in 1965.
After KDKA Radio, Barbour hosted a weekly program on KQV Radio (1410) titled, “Showcase Plus — Black Frustrations, Achievements and Hopes for the Future.” He hosted the program for 12 years. Barbour also served as Assistant Director of Communications for the Western Pa. area for the Pennsylvania State Education Association from 1972-1993.
Barbour was a Sunday School teacher. He drove a church bus to pick up church members. He was a Deacon at First Baptist Church of Bridgeville. He loved flying. Not even a brain hemorrhage 19 years ago could stop Barbour. When some thought he wouldn’t make it through, Barbour showed who he really was.
Barbour was the consummate family man; husband to Gloria Cross Barbour for 68 years, father to three children, grandfather to five.
More than anything, Barbour’s son, Ed Barbour, told the Courier he will always remember those “Sunday Drives” with his father. It’s just like it sounds; the family going for a drive in their 1955 Chevrolet. No cell phones, of course. Just great quality time with Dad.
“He used that as a time to connect us with our family,” Ed Barbour said in a telephone interview, April 4. “We would ride past the old J&L Steel Mill, head out to Cecil (Township), or to Houston, Pa., where my mother’s stepfather and her mother lived, or to Oakdale, where my father’s parents lived. That was very important for connecting us with cousins and aunts and uncles and other loved ones.”
Or on that sunny Sunday afternoon, instead of going up the road to the nearest ice cream parlor, “Dad’s idea of going to get ice cream was taking a drive on the old Route 22 up to State College, to Penn State’s creamery,” Ed Barbour recalled.
In 1971, Barbour earned his private pilot’s license. He later earned an “instrument-rating,” which allowed him to fly “the much more advanced and challenging airplanes, but also to be able to fly in clouds, bad weather, etc.,” Ed Barbour said.
How determined was George Barbour? Barbour used to take “multiple means” to get from Oakdale to the Hunt Armory in Shadyside, where he took meteorology, Morse Code and other sciences.
Ed Barbour and Jacalyn Barbour, George Barbour’s daughter, recalled to the Courier of their father’s love for education, and telling the story of African American success and progress. Whether he was in the field or in the studio, he would make it a point to interview not only the notable figures, but also the everyday folks. To him, everyone’s story was important. George Barbour, in addition to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., also interviewed Viola Liuzzo, a White Civil Rights activist who participated in the Selma March. Liuzzo was killed while driving people home from the Selma March in 1965.
George Barbour tried his best to keep the dangers of being a Black reporter in those times away from his family. Jacalyn Barbour told the Courier her grandparents were afraid George Barbour would be killed if he went to Selma, Ala. They felt he was “putting his life on the line.”
But she recalled her father singing an iconic song at the time, “You’ll never walk alone.” She said she would hear him sing the lyrics: “When you walk through a storm, hold your head up high, and don’t be afraid of the dark…”
Jacalyn Barbour, in recent years, found the Bible that her father took with him to Selma. He wrote in the Bible some things that indicated that “dad did not expect to come back here (to Pittsburgh alive). He had a faith in the Lord that got him through his life.”
The Celebration of Life for George Barbour will be held, Thursday, April 13, at 11 a.m. at The Bible Chapel, 300 Gallery Dr., McMurray. Following will be a military salute at his burial in nearby Forest Lawn Gardens.
This article was originally published by the New Pittsburgh Courier.