News & Politics

What Made Me: Michel Martin of NPR’s “Tell Me More”

Martin talks to us about “radical” hairstyles, reading “The Exorcist,” and a family tragedy.

Michel Martin. Photograph by Douglas Sonders.

The Role Model: Melba Tolliver was the first
black person to anchor a network news program, at WABC-TV in New York. The
day before she was supposed to cover Tricia Nixon’s wedding, she got an
Afro. Her bosses said it was a “radical” hairstyle and took her off the
air. I was nine at the time, and my mother made the mistake of letting me
go to the beauty shop by myself. I came back with a ’fro because of Melba.
I still remember my mother going, “Oh, Lord Jesus!” I saw Melba years
later at a journalism convention, and what was she wearing? A Mohawk. But
I wasn’t tempted to follow her there.

The Example Set by Her Parents: My parents
were always reading—they wouldn’t think of getting on the subway without a
newspaper—and they didn’t restrict what we read. I read The
and didn’t sleep for days. I was terrified. But my parents’
attitude was “If there’s something you don’t understand, you’ll tell us,
you’ll ask.” That’s something that carries with you as a journalist—that
if you don’t understand something, you ask.

The Words of Wisdom: Anita Hill said to me,
“You can be healed, but you’re never the same.” My brother, a firefighter,
tragically took his own life two years ago. I think about him all the
time. His death connected me with millions of other people who’ve been
through this. I see them and understand them in ways I never had

This article appears in the October 2012 issue of The Washingtonian.

Don’t Miss Another Big Story—Get Our Weekend Newsletter

Our most popular stories of the week, sent every Saturday.

Or, see all of our newsletters. By signing up, you agree to our terms.