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Book recalls Pittsburgh's Mal Goode, network TV's first Black reporter

Man at microphone
Goode Family
Mal Goode poses behind the microphone of radio station WHOD ca. 1951.

For a man who was a broadcast pioneer twice over, Mal Goode seems curiously little remembered, even in his hometown of Pittsburgh.

A new full-length biography of the man who broke the network TV-news color line seeks to change that.

Mal Goode Reporting book cover

“Mal Goode Reporting” (University of Pittsburgh Press), by Liann Tsoukas and Rob Ruck, tells the story of the son of a Homestead steelworker who, in 1962, became the first Black reporter for a national TV network. Dramatically, and unexpectedly even to Goode, his debut came with a breaking-news report on the Cuban Missile Crisis.

“We always felt that Daddy never got his quote-unquote due as the first African-American news correspondent,” said Rosalia Parker, Goode’s youngest daughter.

But Parker and the other surviving children of the late Goode and his wife, Mary, are thrilled with the biography by a pair of historians from the University of Pittsburgh — their father’s alma mater.

From the mill to the airwaves

Goode was born in 1908, in Virginia, the grandson of former slaves and the son of an open-hearth worker at U.S. Steel’s Homestead works. Goode, whose mother was a former schoolteacher, was the third son of parents who insisted their children attend college at a time when that was rare for most Americans, let alone the offspring of Black millworkers.

Goode studied pre-law, but graduated in the midst of the Great Depression and couldn’t afford law school. He continued working as a janitor at the mill, a job he’d held since high school. While marrying and starting a family, he was later employed as a county juvenile probation officer and housing project manager.

His break came, ironically, because he survived a heart attack. At age 40, seeking lighter work after the health scare, he was hired by the Pittsburgh Courier — then the nation’s most widely circulated Black newspaper — to boost readership around the country.

Two men at a desk
E. Azalia Hackley Collection of African Americans in the Performing Arts
Detroit Public Library
Goode poses with ABC News director Jim Hagerty.

His broadcast career began when KQV radio offered the Courier air time to present news segments. Ruck and Tsoukas note that Goode wasn’t even the paper’s first choice to represent it on air. But with his bass-baritone voice and facility for public speaking, he took to the job, and did more than deliver news items and the weather.

As one of the few Black students at Pitt, and a witness to the racism that prevented his father from advancing at the mill, Goode was a long-time desegregationist who spoke up about injustice. And he practiced those same values on KQV.

“Soon he is the Black voice on the Pittsburgh airwaves, a militant integrationist who, if a Black man is killed by the police, makes sure that story is heard and understood,” said Ruck. Goode was outspoken enough that police reportedly tracked him, sometimes requiring him to travel in the trunk of a car.

On the air, Goode celebrated desegregation victories large and small with a catch-phrase inspired by the Old Testament. “When a Negro got a good job in a store Downtown, it was, ‘So the walls, the walls keep tumbling down,” he told Ruck in a videotaped 1991 interview. “It was something that I coined myself because the walls then were tumbling down so rapidly.”

When the Courier and KQV parted ways, Goode migrated to WHOD, the Homestead station where his younger sister, known as Mary Dee, had broken ground herself, as the nation’s first Black woman disc jockey. They broadcast as “Mal and Mary,” reportedly American radio’s only brother-sister duo.

From radio to television

Tall and slim, with a pencil mustache and wavy, slicked-down hair, Goode was “built for TV,” said co-author Tsoukas. But as in most of the country, local TV here in the 1950s was lily-white, and Goode couldn’t land a salaried job, just freelance gigs. (Though he did, Ruck and Tsoukas report, once sit in for the legendary play-caller Bob Prince to broadcast a Pirates game on the radio.)

Rob Ruck at old Forbes Field
Tom Altany
Co-author Rob Ruck

His radio work led to another important connection for Goode. A sports fan since his youth watching the Homestead Grays compete in the Negro Leagues, Goode covered sports on his newscasts. He also befriended many Black baseball players, and he and Mary regularly hosted the likes of Willie Mays, Hank Aaron and Roberto Clemente at their house in Homewood. One such player was Jackie Robinson, who famously broke Major League Baseball’s color line in 1947.

Robinson retired from the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1956 but continued working as a civil-rights activist and sports commentator. In 1961, write Ruck and Tsoukas, Robinson began pressing his contacts at ABC to hire a Black reporter. After a national search, Goode got the job, and started work at ABC’s UN bureau in September of the following year.

“Television At Long Last Becomes American” read the headline of a story about Goode’s hiring in the Courier, his former employer.

Because the UN was not typically an eventful beat, Ruck and Tsoukas write that the assignment might have been a way to “hide” Goode. But fate intervened: Weeks after Goode’s first day on the job, the U.S. and U.S.S.R. began their 13-day showdown over Soviet missiles in Cuba, during which atomic warfare seemed a distinct possibility.

Goode had at first drawn only radio assignments. But with the UN bureau chief on vacation, he was pressed into service for TV on Oct. 28, with the crisis coming to a head. As he recalled in an interview three decades later, “I said, ‘It’s a beautiful Sunday morning in October here in New York, but I can’t tell you what’s going to happen before the sun goes down. But the Secretary-General U Thant is going to meet with the principals … and we’ll keep you posted all day long.”

“Oh my goodness, we were screaming!” recalls Rosalia Parker, Mal’s daughter, who was in junior high at the time. “We were calling relatives, and you know, ‘Daddy’s on TV!’ People were calling the house and [saying], ‘Is that Mal on TV?’”

"A big deal"

As the crisis wound down that day, Goode was on TV and radio 16 more times. In an era when Black faces were rare anywhere on television, “This was a big deal,” said Wayne Dawkins a journalism professor at Morgan State University, in Baltimore, who’s written about Goode’s career.

Woman posing in front of trees
Scott Beasley
Liann Tsoukas is co-author of "Mal Goode Reporting."

“When we consider network news and the national media, which is such a dominant force in our American culture now, [we] recognize that there was one moment where there was a certain place, a certain person in a certain time, that the white faces on television began to change and diversify and reflect Americans, American diversity and complex American truths,” said Tsoukas. “It's great to focus on that moment and understand the bridges that [Goode] built and the floodgates that were opened because of that moment.”

Goode went on to a successful and varied 11-year career at ABC. He interviewed newsmakers from Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali to Robert F. Kennedy, and covered stories around the country, from the urban uprisings of the 1960s to Martin Luther King’s Poor People’s March — and King’s assassination.

Ruck and Tsoukas credit him with pushing ABC to include more and more diverse, Black voices on the air. When Goode covered riots in Philadelphia, in August 1964, for instance, he spoke to not only the city’s mayor and civil rights leaders, but to people in the street, at least once with the burglar alarm of a damaged storefront clanging in the background.

Ruck said Goode asked himself, “What can I get these networks to do in terms of covering the African-American community and the world in ways it had never thought about? … What about efforts to build community? What about the daily problems people are facing?’”

Ruck credits Goode’s ability to relate to a wide range of people to his upbringing, when he was seemingly as comfortable in Homestead’s racially integrated “hilltop” neighborhood, where he grew up among the families of skilled steelworkers and other relatively privileged folks, and “the ward,” home to poorer working-class Blacks and white immigrants.

“He's the sort of person who's able to bring the cohesion to black America that it needs to mount the civil rights movement in the '50s and '60s,” Ruck said.

In 1967, Goode was the lone reporter whom organizers including the Black Panther Party allowed into a Black Power conference in Newark, N.J. Another ABC reporter set up outdoors to interview Goode about what he had seen and heard inside.

“Because he was so well respected, he had a rapport with the top leaders in the civil rights movement, but he also had rapport with that everyman or everywoman in the community,” said Dawkins, the journalism professor. “And that mattered a lot.”

A lasting legacy

While Goode’s performance was by all accounts exemplary, TV news was slow to hire other Blacks. Dawkins said hiring practices didn’t begin to change more broadly until the late 1960s, after publication of the federal Kerner Commission report that named an overwhelmingly white mass media as one factor in the institutional racism behind the Black uprisings of the era.

A family portrait of Black men and women wearing suits and dresses.
Goode Family
Goode (center) with his wife, Mary, and children around the time of his 1962 hiring by ABC.

After getting the ABC job, Goode, Mary Goode and their youngest children, Rosalia and Ronald, moved to Teaneck, N.J., a suburb of New York City. In retirement, he remained there for years, and continued accepting speaking engagements at civic groups around the country. He also consulted with radio’s National Black Network, founded in 1973, and continued publicly speaking out against discrimination in Teaneck.

He also continued collecting laurels, including tributes from Sam Donaldson, Ed Bradley and Carole Simpson at the National Association of Black Journalist’s inaugural Hall of Fame induction, in 1990. In 1991, on “The Arsenio Hall Show,” groundbreaking CNN anchor Bernard Shaw ranked Goode as one of his main inspirations, alongside Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite.

In 1993, Goode and Mary moved back to Pittsburgh. He died in 1995 and is buried in St. Peter’s Cemetery, in Lincoln-Lemington-Belmar, next to his wife, who died three years later.

Mal Goode’s death was front-page news in Pittsburgh, and his achievement as the first Black network TV news correspondent is widely acknowledged. If he remains less well-known locally than, say, his exact contemporary, Pittsburgh Courier news photographer Teenie Harris, it’s likely because Goode’s greatest successes came after he left Pittsburgh, and because he left behind no physical legacy of his work comparable to Harris’ vast archive of photographs, held by the Carnegie Museum of Art.

But “Mal Goode Reporting” has summoned good memories for his children.

Roberta Goode Wilburn, Goode’s oldest daughter, lives in Pittsburgh, and said the day the new biography came out, she carried a copy to her parent’s graves. She says she feels proud whenever she sees a Black news person on TV.

“I say, ‘Well, I know whose shoulders you stand on,’” she said. “He was my father, he was the first!”

Bill is a long-time Pittsburgh-based journalist specializing in the arts and the environment. Previous to working at WESA, he spent 21 years at the weekly Pittsburgh City Paper, the last 14 as Arts & Entertainment editor. He is a graduate of Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism and in 30-plus years as a journalist has freelanced for publications including In Pittsburgh, The Nation, E: The Environmental Magazine, American Theatre, and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Bill has earned numerous Golden Quill awards from the Press Club of Western Pennsylvania. He lives in the neighborhood of Manchester, and he once milked a goat. Email: