Tupac’s Dear Mama & The New York Times

Afeni Shakur and the Op Ed Page

You never know what you’ll find in an archive. Years ago, while working on a history of the Op Ed page, I was digging through box after box of memos in the Harrison Salisbury Papers at Columbia University. One missive, dated October 13, 1971, jumped out at me. It was written by the great war correspondent-turned-editor John Van Doorn. Van Doorn spent much of the 1960s covering wars in Vietnam and the Middle East. By 1971 he was back in New York City, where Salisbury hired him to help get the New York Times Op Ed page, a new innovation, off the ground. The memos written by Van Doorn and David Schneiderman were a delight to read. It bothered me that I couldn’t include more of them in my scholarly article.

On October 13, 1971, a “young, black female” stopped by Van Doorn’s office. Here’s what Van Doorn wrote his boss:

Mr. S.,

Since you mentioned it I have thought a lot about finding a young, black female to work here, but I don’t know any and am a little unclear about where to look. However, one has come in the door.

She is:

1. Young
2. Black
3. Out of work
4. Wonderfully intelligent but unschooled
5. Streetwise
6. Energetic
7. Sophisticated

She would fit right in and, I think, make a valuable addition. It seems to me that she could provide us with names and so forth, but even if she couldn’t, her ideas and insights would be really helpful.

I’m not sure she’d want to work here. She wants her life to have some meaning; she wants to feel that she is sending the movement forward. But I think we should give it a try. Will you talk to her?

Her name is Afeni Shakur.

I found no record of Salisbury’s response.

Shakur never went to work for the New York Times. That’s a good thing; I’d guess if she had taken the job we’d never have “Dear Mama”or Holler If Ya Hear Me.

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