Quarles, Norma 1936–
Norma Quarles 1936–
Norma Quarles worked her way up through the ranks at NBC and CNN to become a respected journalist, but not until she’d tried careers as a boutique retail buyer and real estate broker. Once she made the jump to broadcasting, as a 36–year-old divorced mother of two, there was no looking back. After 21 years with NBC News and its affiliates, where she covered such nationally significant stories as the Bern-hard Goetz shootings and the Baby M case, Quarles was inducted into the Hall of Fame of the National Association of Black Journalists. She then became a correspondent for CNN. Throughout her career, she’s remained true to her multiracial roots, challenging stereotypes in the media and being respected for it.
Born to Trinidadian parents in 1936, Quarles embodied the concept of the American melting pot, but was often ostracized for it. Even in the mixed community of New York City’s South Bronx, Quarles—who is part Portuguese, English, Scottish, black, and Chinese— didn’t fit in. “Back then,” Quarles told Cosmopolitan, “people fell into one of two categories: black or white.”
The neighborhood kids thought she was strange and made fun of her for not eating chitlins or collard greens. “So I never had many friends,” she continued. “I was something of a loner.” As an adult, Quarles vacationed in Cartegena, Colombia. Surrounded by multiracial people, who “looked just like me,” she told Cosmopolitan, she felt like she belonged. “I’ve always known that I was different, but I never realized that it had such an effect on me.”
With her exotic look, Quarles had a tough time fitting in even when she attended New York’s Hunter College. She married an African American insurance executive at the age of 18 and moved to Chicago, where she started a family and became a dedicated mother. After spending years speaking in public at PTA meetings while her children were in school, Quarles had talent enough to audition and win a broadcasting position at a Chicago radio station, WSDM. The station had just changed its format to jazz, and featured female deejays. Because it was a small operation, Quarles was called on to be more than a pretty voice, and had to “do everything,” she told Cosmopolitan, in addition to being on the air eight hours a day.
At a Glance…
Born Norma Quarles November 11, 1936, in New York, NY; divorced; children: Lawrence, Susan. Education: Hunter College; City College of New York.
Career: CNN, correspondent, 1988–, daytime anchor, 1988–90; NBCTV, news reporter, beginning 1970; WKYC-TV, Cleveland, OH, news reported anchor-woman 1967–70; NBC News Training Program 1966– 67; WSDM-FM, Chicago, IL, news reporter, 1965–66; Katherine King Associates, Chicago, IL, real estate broker 1957–65.
Awards: Front Page Award, WNBC-TV, 1973; Dead line Club Award, Sigma Delta Chi, 1973; selected as a panelist, The League of Women Voters Vice Presidential Debate, 1984; inducted into National Association of Black Journalists Hall of Fame, 1990; ONE Golden Eagle, 1993; numerous New York Association of Black Journalists Awards; won an Emmy award.
Member: Governor’s National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, boardmember; Sigma Delta Chi; National Association of Black Journalists.
Addresses: Office —CNN, 5 Penn Plaza, New York, NY 10001.
Her biggest struggle in Chicago had nothing to do with handling a challenging job. She felt that Chicago during the 1960s was steeped in racism. “They make no bones about the fact that they don’t like you …” Quarles said in Cosmopolitan. With her family, Quarles moved into a primarily white middle-class neighborhood. Within a year, the entire neighborhood was African American. For the first time, her mixed background came into focus, and Quarles began to identify with one race. “When you’re discriminated against for being black,” she said in Cosmopolitan, “you know you’re black.” She had a tough time coming up with an answer to her children’s question, “Mommy, why do people hate Negroes so much?”
Following the breakup of her marriage, Quarles moved with her two children back to New York in 1966. As the civil rights movement progressed, there was more pressure in the media to integrate minorities into the workplace. There also was more pressure on minorities in the media, because they were the trailblazing pioneers, setting the standards and shaping history. Quarles spent a year at a special training program at NBC. She then took jobs with NBC News affiliates in Chicago, Cleveland, and in New York City. It was while she was working as a reporter for WNBC-TV in New York City that she got her first big break. After substituting as a hostess for three weeks on a women’s show, Quarles was offered the coanchor position on a 6 P.M. news program—it was the first coanchor spot to go to a woman in New York City.
Quarles received pressure from some African Americans for not being militant enough, but she reported news with a fair eye to both sides of the color line. When assigned a story about welfare mothers, Quarles focused on a white woman and her children. Back at the station, she was questioned by co-workers, who assumed the subject of her report would have been African American. “I fought that all the time,” she told Cosmopolitan. However, Quarles saw her values as extending beyond mere color. “My values—kids, education, hard work—are neither black or white …” she said.
It was because of those values that Quarles opted to limit her career in many cases. Putting motherhood first, she never took a network assignment job that would involve national and international travel. Although it would have been a significant move up the ladder for her, both professionally and financially, Quarles always was clear that her responsibilities as a mother were her priority. She found a healthy balance between her career and raising her son and daughter.
Quarles may have passed up traveling assignment opportunities, but she still covered nationally significant news. She quickly earned high marks for her reporting skills, and gained respect in the industry. For her news stories on the film story “The Stripper,” she was awarded a Sigma Delta Chi Deadline Club Award and a Front Page Award. For her “Urban Stories” series, she won an Emmy award. While working as an NBC New York correspondent, Quarles was assigned to cover such major headline stories as the Bernhard Goetz shooting and the Baby M case. She also was selected as a panelist on the League of Women Voters’ vice presidential debate in 1984.
In 1988, after 21 years with NBC, Quarles left to join CNN. She continued her award-winning work there, being inducted into the Hall of Fame of the National Association of Black Journalists in 1990, and earning a CINE Golden Eagle in 1993. Also that year, she earned New York Association of Black Journalists Awards for a one-hour CNN special on race relations called “A House Divided,” and also for a feature report, “The Delany Sisters.” Quarles believes that her multiracial background and exotic look have helped her in her career, just not in obvious ways. “It’s made me a broader person,” she told Cosmopolitan. “I identify more with other people. I think I have fewer prejudices because of my background.”
Smith, Jessie Carney, editor, Notable Black American Women, Gale Research, 1992.
Henderson, Ashyia N., and Phelps, Shirelle, editors, Who’s Who Among African Americans, 12th Edition, Gale Group, 1999.
Cosmopolitan, October 1986, p. 260.
Jet, April 30, 1990, p. 12.
Additional information for this profile was obtained from “Norma Quarles,” CNN Online, http://www.cnn.com