SHAWNEE – Gary Lee’s journalism career has come full circle. Like the majority of Tulsans who were born in the Historic Greenwood District, The Oklahoma Eagle was the sole source to read about the happenings in the Black community. He read the newspaper at home, in the barbershop, at George Washington Carver Middle School or wherever it landed in the neighborhood.
It was the Eagle that sparked his interest to become a journalist, he said. After a distinguished and historic career that included a tour as Moscow bureau chief for The Washington Post, deputy chief of the Germany Bureau for Time Magazine and as a travel writer for National Geographic.
For nearly three years, Lee has served as the Eagle’s managing editor has established a new era of narrative, people-focused content for the newspaper.
Because of his leadership and reporting, Lee received the Ray Lokey Memorial Award for Excellence in Reporting from the Oklahoma Newspaper Foundation at the Oklahoma Press Association’s Better Newspaper Contest Awards program on June 10 at the Grand Casino Hotel and Resort in Shawnee.
The Lokey Memorial Award “honors a writer whose published work exemplifies well researched, responsible and fact-driven journalism for the benefit of the community and newspaper industry.”
Lee, a fifth generation Oklahoman of Creek Freedman descent, is the first African American and Eagle staff writer to receive this award named for third-generation publisher John Raiford “Ray” Lokey, who owned the Johnston County Capital-Democrat in Tishomingo from 1990 until his death in 2017.
The Lokey award comes after Lee was a finalist in May for “Writer of the Year” in the eight-state Great Plains Journalism Awards contest.
“To receive this award in my home state is one of the highest points in my journalistic career,” Lee said. “After years as a foreign correspondent in various countries and a national reporter covering issues across the U.S., it’s rewarding for me to focus on the news and people in the community that sent me off into the world.”
M. David Goodwin, an Eagle principal, said Lee is a gifted writer and researcher who understands the Tulsa community.
“Our audience continues to be treated by a talented storyteller who began his career selling the Eagle as a newsboy in the late 1950s,” Goodwin said. “Every story he writes for the Eagle is either a gift to our readers’ hearts, a swift kick in the seat of the pants of a political curmudgeon or for a Tulsan to share a tender moment about overcoming one of life’s many obstacles.”
The body of Lee’s work recognized by the Oklahoma Newspaper Foundation included four of the Eagle’s most important investigative projects in 2022, which included exploring and revealing the mental health challenges faced by Tulsa’s Black community; how the COVID-19 pandemic and remote learning negatively impacted the majority of Black and Brown children in Tulsa Public Schools; writing the narratives of the Historic Greenwood District we have known for a century and the generational legacies that continue to make a difference both locally and beyond; and a program helping adolescent mothers – and families – forge a better journey through parenthood.
Publisher James O. Goodwin said Lee’s tenure with the Eagle has been rewarding and appreciative to help the 10th oldest Black-owned newspaper in America remain relevant and influential in today’s media ecosystem.
“Gary has produced a catalogue of content that continue to tell the stories of people, events, places and issues that are part of the Black community in Tulsa, in Oklahoma and beyond our state borders,” the publisher said.
In a three-part series, Lee investigated how the coronavirus pandemic and remote learning negatively impacted the majority of Black and Brown children in the nearly 33,000-student in Tulsa Public Schools.
He lead the efforts of the Eagle’s 10-month-long project, “Of Greenwood,” that was sponsored by Liberty Mutual Insurance.
He continues to lead the Eagle’s coverage of the impact Oklahoma’s controversial House Bill 1775 law – which has erased teaching America’s history as related to enslaved people and segregated laws enacted to protect whites – is having on public schools statewide, including the sanctioning of Tulsa Public Schools for violating it.
In a two-part series, he collaborated with the Mental Health Association Oklahoma to explore and reveal the mental health challenges faced by Tulsa’s Black community.
He has worked with multiple journalism and philanthropic organizations to secure funding to help the Eagle provide our audience with the resources to investigate some of the most important issues impacting the Black and Brown communities in Tulsa and nationwide.
He traveled to Washington, D.C., to cover Congressional hearings on efforts by Freedmen to gain citizenship with four of the five Oklahoma-based tribal nations.
“His body of work is a sampling of the important journalism he continues to report each week for the Eagle,” James Goodwin said. “For a journalist who is a two-time Pulitzer Prize finalists, speaks five fluent languages daily, battled wits with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and other world leaders, and has been an eyewitness covering some of the most important people and events of our time, our audience continues to benefit from a Greenwood native done good.”
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I hope you appreciated this article. Before you move on, I was hoping you would consider taking the step of supporting The Oklahoma Eagle’s journalism.
From the various media outlets in our market, to a small number of billionaire owners and private equity firms have a powerful hold on so much of the information that reaches the public about what’s happening in the world. The Eagle stives to be different. We have no billionaire owner or shareholders to consider. Our journalism is produced to serve the public interest – not profit motives.
And we avoid the trap that befalls much U.S. media – the tendency, born of a desire to please all sides, to engage in false equivalence in the name of neutrality. While fairness guides everything we do, we know there is a right and a wrong position in the fight against racism and injustices. When we report on issues like the mental health crisis in the Black community, the ongoing issues with public education and the political discord and troubling legislation being enacted at the Oklahoma statehouse, we’re not afraid either to name or hold those individuals responsible for problems that work against improving the lives of Black people.
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James O. Goodwin, publisher