Julia Scott Reed, trailblazing African-American journalist in Dallas, daughter of Johnnie and Nina McGee, was born Julia McGee in Dallas, Texas, on July 17, 1917. Her father died when she was very young, and for the first eight years of her life she lived in the home of her mother’s employers in a fashionable white neighborhood. After moving with her mother to one of Dallas’s African-American communities, she attended Booker T. Washington High School and graduated in 1935. Reed then attended Wiley College Extension for two years and received journalism and communications training from Philip’s Business School. Sometime between her graduation from high school and 1950 she married Jack Scott. In 1950 she began her career as a reporter for the Kansas City Call, a weekly African-American newspaper in Missouri; she served as the publication’s Texas correspondent.
The first big break in Reed’s career came in 1951 when she was hired by the Dallas Express, the city’s leading African-American newspaper. Although she began as a secretary, the tight payroll typical of black newspapers ensured Reed opportunities to contribute in a more impactful manner. She was promoted to telephone reporter and wrote “soft news” articles on African-American social events under the name “Julia Scott.” Reed was soon assigned to more hard-hitting subject matter and regularly covered politics and civil rights activities in Dallas. She eventually became city editor at the Express and also impressed her colleagues with her passion for photography.
Reed also gained notoriety at the Express for her coverage of major historical events at the state and national level, reporting on the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education case, as well as the tornado that ravaged Waco, Texas, in the same year. Reed had a front-row seat to Dallas history on November 24, 1963, when she witnessed the assassination of Lee Harvey Oswald at the hands of gunman Jack Ruby. Her coverage of Ruby’s subsequent trial cemented her reputation as a trusted journalistic voice in the Dallas black community. While still working at the Express, Reed was also a radio personality for eight years at KNOK, where she presented “News and Views.”
Julia Scott divorced her husband in 1957. On December 3, 1966, she married Ewell “Jimmy” Reed. In her last six months as an editor of the Dallas Express she wrote under the byline, “Julia Scott Reed.” Julia Scott Reed and Ewell Reed divorced on January 27, 1971.
Although she established herself as one of the most capable journalists in Dallas while at the Express, Reed’s enduring legacy was not truly solidified until July 1967, when she became the first African American hired at the Dallas Morning News. As “Julia Scott Reed” she became the first African American to write a regular column for the Dallas Morning News. The hiring itself was a watershed moment in race relations, and the appearance of Reed’s thrice-weekly column, entitled “The Open Line,” came at a time when a racially-tense Dallas needed her most. As urban riots spread throughout many of America’s metropolitan centers in the mid-to-late 1960s, some blamed the media for its negative influence on an already difficult situation. In response, there was a call for newspapers to hire more black journalists who would report on the positive aspects of the black community.
Reed’s columns informed readers about the triumphs and struggles of the hard-working Dallas black community thereby empowering a formerly voiceless black community while also easing fears of an urban race riot in Dallas. To what extent Reed can be given any credit is debatable, but the fact is Dallas did not experience a full-scale urban race riot as so many other metropolitan centers did during the 1960s. Reed helped open the lines of communication between the black and white communities in Dallas. Unfortunately, she suffered a stroke in December 1978, which forced her premature retirement from the Dallas Morning News. Though her career was cut short, her impact on the city of Dallas was profound.
Reed’s lasting legacy may be attributed to her trailblazing role at the Dallas Morning News, but her involvement stretched well beyond the world of journalism. Beginning in the 1950s while still at the Express, Reed was not shy about inserting herself into the political world or about participating directly in the crusade for African-American civil rights. In 1953 she took part in coordinated demonstrations at several of Dallas’s department stores and exposed the discrimination black women experienced while shopping. Reed also protested the segregated Tea Room at Sanger Brothers department store in 1960. In 1958 she won election as a Democratic Party chair of Precinct No. 306, a position she held for twenty-three years.
Reed was an active member of the Dallas NAACP and received a certificate of lifetime membership in 1971. In addition to sitting on numerous advisory boards, including the War on Poverty, Planned Parenthood, and the Goals for Dallas Task Force, Reed also served as the first president of the Dallas Urban League from 1972 to 1974. She continued to exhibit her propensity for trailblazing by becoming the first African-American member of the Dallas Press Club in 1965, two years before her time at the Dallas Morning News began. She was also the first black member of the Altrusa Club of Dallas, as well as the Dallas Movie Classification Board.
Her enormous contributions to journalism and the Dallas community were recognized through countless awards, including being named “Woman of the Year” by multiple organizations, including the Zeta Phi Beta sorority in 1967. Reed was inducted into the Museum of African American Life and Culture’s Texas Black Women’s Hall of Fame in 1986. She received recognition from Golden Gate Baptist Church, where she attended services, earning the Award of Excellence for Unselfish Community Service and Dedication to Humanity in 1975.
Julia Scott Reed died in her Dallas home on October 19, 2004, at the age of eighty-seven. Her funeral was held at Golden Gate Baptist Church, and she was buried in Laurel Land Cemetery. She was survived by her daughter, Gayle Eubanks Coleman, who carried on Reed’s legacy through the Julia Scott Reed Community Foundation, providing mentoring and financial assistance to the next generation of aspiring journalists. Reed’s daughter Gayle paid fitting tribute following her mother’s passing, saying, “I am proud to say that I am the daughter of Julia Scott Reed. If I were to note two of the many things you taught me, they would be: ‘Always carry yourself like a lady’ and ‘Always stand up for what you believe in.’”