Television news personality
Edie Huggins was not just another talking head on the evening news. To scores of Philadelphians who grew up watching her on local television, she was very much a part of the community. Over the course of a broadcasting career that spanned more than four decades, Huggins endeared herself to viewers with her thoughtful reporting, zest for life, and genuine interest in the people she interviewed. As the first African-American woman to appear on television news in Philadelphia, she broke gender and color barriers, paving the way for future generations of journalists. Huggins's death in 2008 prompted an outpouring of emotion as colleagues and viewers honored the incredible accomplishments of the woman whom many fondly referred to as "Miss Edie."
Huggins was born Edith Lou Thompson on August 14, 1935, in St. Joseph, Missouri, approximately thirty miles north of Kansas City. A popular girl known to friends as "Eddie Lou," she was introduced to broadcasting at age fourteen when she won a contest that gave her the chance to appear on KRES, a local radio station. Station executives were so impressed with Eddie Lou that they gave her a weekly Saturday evening show for teenagers, making her the city's first African-American disc jockey. At Bartlett High School she developed a talent for music, learning the cornet and marching with the band, as well as playing piano at church. Classmate Theresa Rowlett remembered that Eddie Lou always had a way with people. "She could mingle with anybody," she told the St. Joseph News-Press in 2008.
When she was denied entrance to the University of Missouri because of her race, she instead attended the University of Nebraska on a music scholarship. There, she was the first African American to be crowned Miss Cornhusker, in 1954. She dropped out of school to marry U.S. Air Force officer Hastings Huggins, with whom she had a son and a daughter. When Hastings Huggins left the military and took a job with IBM, the family moved to New York City.
Eddie Lou Huggins, as she was still known, went back to school at the State University of New York in Plattsburgh, graduating cum laude with a bachelor's degree in science in 1963. She took a job as a registered nurse, working at both Bellevue and Flower-Fifth Avenue hospitals. While working nights as a nurse, she embarked on a more glamorous career during the day as an actress, playing Nurse Spencer on the NBC soap opera The Doctors, also serving as an informal consultant to the show. She also made appearances on the CBS soaps The Edge of Night and Love of Life, and in the film A Man Called Adam (1966) starring Sammy Davis Jr.
In 1966 Huggins was spotted by Bruce Bryant, general manager at WCAU television in Philadelphia, who was looking for a features reporter for the station's evening news. He asked Huggins to audition. Bryant offered her the job, on one condition—that she change her name. Eddie Lou Huggins became Edie Huggins, and soon she and her children (she was now divorced) moved to Philadelphia.
Huggins started out as a feature reporter on the Big News Team with John Facenda. As the first African-American woman on Philadelphia television news, she was both exhilarated and terrified. Recalling her first days on air in Philadelphia, she told WCAU/NBC 10, "I was a trailblazer, and I guess that's where … the fear came in because I was getting mail, fan mail. Some of it good, some of it not so good, you know like, why do they have to go to New York to find someone, why do they have to get a colored woman—we were ‘colored’ then."
Before long, Huggins was getting more air time. In the early 1970s she appeared with Herb Clarke on What's Happening, a midday news program, and from 1974 to 1976 she hosted Morningside, a daily one-hour program featuring segments on health, finance, and entertainment, with interviews with newsmakers. Huggins became a mainstay at the station, anchoring the news, conducting interviews with local personalities and politicians, reporting new stories, and conducting investigative reports. Though she was a respected and skilled journalist, it was her charm and compassion that endeared her to colleagues and viewers, and even to those she interviewed. Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell, for instance, recalled to WCAU/NBC 10, "If Edie wanted an interview it was simply impossible to say no to her. Her charm, grace and overall likeability were her greatest assets, but they didn't stop her from asking tough questions about some of the challenges that faced our city and region."
Huggins was a passionate advocate of community service and devoted time to many organizations in Philadelphia. One of her most popular segments was "Huggins' Heroes," a weekly profile of ordinary people doing extraordinary deeds. Huggins said in an interview with WCAU/NBC 10, "I love people. I love learning about people … their troubles and their aches and pains." She went on, "I just want to be remembered as someone who cares … about others."
Huggins acted as a mentor to many young journalists during her more than forty years at WCAU, having forged a path for others to follow. "In her uniquely dignified way, Edie helped open the doors and blazed the trail that made it possible for so many of us to be here," said WCAU/NBC 10 vice president Chris Blackman. Former Congressman Bill Gray, Edie's former pastor, reflected, "She was a beautiful person in every sense of the word and a role model…. She was really committed to giving back." A longtime member of Bright Hope Baptist Church in Philadelphia, Huggins established a scholarship for women to pursue nursing, which continues as her legacy.
Huggins was a founding member of the National Association of Black Journalists, which honored her in 2005. She received many awards for her journalism and for her community service. In 2002 she was inducted into the Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia's Hall of Fame, and she was named by the Urban League of Philadelphia as one of the Outstanding African-American Philadelphians of the 20th Century. She received the Hall of Fame Award from the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists in 2006, and in 2008 she earned the Board of Governors' Award of the Mid-Atlantic Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, as well as the Lifetime Achievement Award of the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists. The Philadelphia City Council declared March 30 "Edie Huggins Day" in 2006, in honor of her forty years of dedication.
At a Glance …
Born Edith Lou Thompson on August 14, 1935, in St. Joseph, MO; died on July 29, 2008, in Philadelphia, PA; daughter of Edward W. Thompson (a pharmacist); married Hastings Huggins, late 1950s (divorced, 1960s); married Ray Bryant (a jazz pianist), 1975 (divorced, 1982); children: Hastings Edward, Laurie Linn. Religion: Baptist. Education: State University of New York at Plattsburgh, BA, science, 1963.
Career: Bellevue and Flower-Fifth Avenue hospitals, registered nurse, 1963-66; television actress, late 1960s; WCAU-TV (now NBC 10), news reporter, anchor, and program host, 1966-2008.
Memberships: National Association of Black Journalists.
Awards: Communicator of the Year, Philadelphia Chapter, American Women in Radio and Television, 1993; Philadelphia Broadcast Pioneers Hall of Fame, 2002; Outstanding African-American Philadelphians of the 20th Century, Urban League of Philadelphia, 2002; Hall of Fame Award, American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, 2006; Board of Governors' Award, Mid-Atlantic Chapter, National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, 2008; Lifetime Achievement Award, Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists, 2008.
Huggins died on July 29, 2008, following a long battle with cancer. Shortly before her death Huggins, as quoted by Michael Klein in the Philadelphia Inquirer, summed up her life and career positively, reflecting: "I've had a wonderful, wonderful life and the people that I've met, I don't think I'd trade it for anything. I can't think of anything, truly, that I would rather do or rather spend the past 42-plus years than what I've done."
Philadelphia Daily News, July 30, 2008.
Philadelphia Inquirer, July 29, 2008; August 7, 2008.
St. Joseph News-Press, August 6, 2008.
"Edie Huggins," Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia, http://www.broadcastpioneers.com/ediehuggins.html (accessed August 27, 2008).
"Huggins Says She Wants to Be Remembered as Someone Who Cares," WCAU/NBC 10, July 29, 2008, http://www.nbc10.com/news/17031520/detail.html (accessed August 27, 2008).
"NBC 10's Edie Huggins Dies at 72," WCAU/NBC 10, July 29, 2008, http://www.nbc10.com/news/17026230/detail.html?dl=mainclick (accessed August 27, 2008).
—Deborah A. Ring
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