Henry, Neil 1954–

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Henry, Neil 1954–


Born January 28, 1954. Education: Princeton University, 1977; Columbia University School of Journalism, M.A.


Office—University of California, Berkeley, Graduate School of Journalism, 121 North Gate Hall, Ste. 5860, Berkeley, CA 94720-5860. E-mail—[email protected]


Washington Post, Washington, DC, metropolitan reporter, 1978-81, investigative writer, 1982-86, national correspondent, 1986-87, assistant foreign editor, 1987-88, Africa bureau chief, 1989-92; Newsweek, New York, NY, staff writer, 1981-82; University of California, Berkeley, Graduate School of Journalism, distinguished visiting professor, 1992-93, acting associate professor, 1993-99, associate professor, 1999-2007, professor, acting dean, 2007—.


Society of Professional Journalists, The Newspaper Guild.


Pearl's Secret: A Black Man's Search for His White Family (memoir), University of California Press (Berkeley, CA), 2001.

American Carnival: Journalism under Siege in an Age of New Media, University of California Press (Berkeley, CA), 2007.

Contributor in periodicals, including Reader's Digest.


Neil Henry began his career in journalism as an intern at the Washington Post. He progressed as an investigative reporter and national correspondent, and finally became the Africa bureau chief, based in Nairobi, Kenya. Henry covered thirty countries, wars in Ethiopia and Liberia, and political movements in Cameroon, Nigeria, and Zambia before leaving the Washington Post to accept a teaching fellowship at the University of California at Berkeley School of Journalism in 1992. Henry worked his way up to a full professorship and dean, and he teaches courses in news reporting, among others. His first book, Pearl's Secret: A Black Man's Search for His White Family, delves into his own family's history. A Kirkus Reviews contributor called it "a deeply personal American story and a valuable contribution to the study of race in our culture." "Henry's account of the complicated warp and weft of American race relations manifested in one family proves most moving," commented Vanessa Bush in Booklist.

Henry's white great-great grandfather, Arthur John Beaumont, was the father of his great-grandmother, Pearl. Beaumont was an English-born plantation owner who fathered the child of Laura Brumley, who then took Pearl and migrated north to St. Louis from post-Civil War Louisiana. Henry, who grew up in Seattle, was the son of a doctor who set up his practice in one of the few places in the United States where hospitals were willing to allow him to practice. He lived in a white upper-class world until he began reporting for the Washington Post, when he began to reconnect to the world of his ancestors and took up the search for a factual account of his past.

In conducting his research, Henry returned to the South, where he examined newspapers on microfilm, courthouse records, and old cemetery headstones. What he found were Beaumont's photograph, obituary, and the man's deathbed letter to Pearl, in which he acknowledges his paternity and asks her forgiveness. Pearl's descendants include, like Henry, many professionals, but Henry found that Beaumont suffered economic misfortune and a lowered social status. Henry discovered that Pearl had kept in touch with her white relatives for years, and eventually Henry was able to contact his white distant cousins.

Mat Johnson wrote in Washington Post Book World that "the stories of [Henry's] black family … are stark, tender, and moving in their honesty, their ability to show both ambivalence and pain. When Henry's parents' closely guarded secret is revealed—the rape of his mother by a black man in the South before the move to Seattle—the tale is as powerful as it is painful to read…. In its attempt to record two related families' journeys since slavery, and to reach a deeper understanding of America itself, the book is victorious." "In the end," wrote a Publishers Weekly contributor, "Henry succeeds in his mission, but the emotional insights this memoir brings are the reward received, for both author and reader."

Angela Dodson noted in Black Issues Book Review that Pearl's Secret is not a scholarly narrative, nor has Henry written it as a historian might have. Dodson wrote that "it is, however, a heartfelt, candid, and painstakingly written essay of one man's search for answers to his own family's racial enigmas. As such, it is a creditable contribution to solving the puzzle of emotions and facts that continue to divide people and nations." In a Library Journal review, Veronica Davis called Pearl's Secret "fascinating and compelling."

In American Carnival: Journalism under Siege in an Age of New Media, Henry looks at modern-day journalism and how it is coping with the rapid changes in technology that constantly alter the way that news is gathered, processed, and distributed, particularly regarding the speed at which it can be disseminated. Henry has done extensive research into the various areas of media and print journalism, focusing in particular on the ways in which stories are reported regarding some of the highest-profile issues and circumstances of the day, including the war in Iraq. He also looks at how media coverage affects subjects such as race relations, and how advertisers and politicians both manipulate news formats and exploit them for their own agendas. Henry then goes on to address major issues with the way the news itself is reported, including times when the media has been used as a way of gaining publicity through emotional blackmail, as individuals have taken schools and other public locations hostage in order to achieve publicity for themselves or their issues. Lastly, he addresses the role of the Internet in the changes in media and journalism, looking at how personal sites and blogs have enabled anyone with computer access to join the information highway and the struggle to provide meaningful, timely content. Vanessa Bush, reviewing for Booklist, commented that "this is a personal, frontline account of worrisome changes in the profession."



Henry, Neil, Pearl's Secret: A Black Man's Search for His White Family, University of California Press (Berkeley, CA), 2001.


Black Issues Book Review, September, 2001, Angela Dodson, review of Pearl's Secret, p. 37.

Booklist, May 1, 2001, Vanessa Bush, review of Pearl's Secret, p. 1659; May 1, 2007, Vanessa Bush, review of American Carnival: Journalism under Siege in an Age of New Media, p. 53.

Library Journal, April 1, 2001, Veronica Davis, review of Pearl's Secret, p. 119.

Publishers Weekly, March 5, 2001, review of Pearl's Secret, p. 68.

Sunday Times (London, England), July 22, 2001, Sarah Curtis, review of Pearl's Secret.

Virginia Quarterly Review, autumn, 2001, review of Pearl's Secret, p. 134.

Washington Post Book World, April 29, 2001, Mat Johnson, "Distant Relations," p. 9.


NewsHour,http://www.pbs.org/ (May 22, 2001), Gwen Ifill, "Conversation: Pearl's Secret," transcript.