Evelyn Horad was born Evelyn Ross in Nashville, Tennessee, in 1927. At age fifteen she moved to Washington with her mother. Evelyn’s mother was one of a tide of young African American women who swept into the District during the 20th century in search of a government job and Evelyn’s goal was to attend Howard University. Over the course of the next half century, Evelyn became part of Washington and Montgomery County’s African American history because of her work in journalism and her 1986 second marriage to Sewell Horad, the son of civil rights leader Romeo Horad Sr.
Evelyn recalls arriving in Washington by bus. Washington at the time was still rigidly segregated and her entire family is light-skinned. “But we’re all fair; you know, we are fair. And when she got off the train coming from Nashville for her government job, they said you go this way,” Evelyn said in an interview in the spring of 2017. “They divided people off and they sent her with the white people. So she went and worked as a white woman till she died.”
Evelyn lived in Washington’s LeDroit Park neighborhood. It was one of the District’s distinctive middle-class Black neighborhoods that helped define Washington as a “Chocolate City.” After graduating from Howard in 1947, Evelyn married her college sweetheart, Richard Gunn. She spent more than decade as a stay-at-home mom before venturing out into the workforce.
Washington in the late 1950s still hadn’t fully shed its Jim Crow discriminatory traditions in everything from housing to public accommodations and employment. Though Evelyn didn’t intentionally identify as white, people who categorize others by first visual impressions believed that she was. She oftentimes didn’t do anything to dissuade them from that. After a successful interview for a job with Pepco, the interviewer asked Evelyn for her resume.
“So she read down where I had gone to Howard and just like that, everything changed,” Evelyn said. “And she tells me, ‘I’m sorry. We’re going to have to put this on hold’.”
Evelyn adapted and she removed Howard from her resume. That meant omitting her college career and only noting that she was a high school graduate. A subsequent interview for an advertising sales position with the Washington Post resulted in a job offer. That led to a successful 26-year career at the Post and it became a sidebar to local journalism history.
A few weeks into her new job, Evelyn attended a meeting where her boss, the advertising manager, went through the usual agenda and then he made an announcement. “And he says, ‘And we are getting ready to hire the first negro,’ black or whatever we were being called and here I am sitting in the room,” Evelyn recalled with a laugh.
“Hmm, no you’re not,” she said to herself.
There were African Americans working at the Post when Evelyn arrived, though none were in the newsroom or other professional positions. “They were planning before I came in, you know,” she said. “They were planning to hire negroes in advertising. They had people working in the Post but not in a thinking job, you know.” Evelyn recalled that the only other people of color she encountered at the company worked as elevator operators, custodians, and in shipping.
During her time at the Post, Evelyn befriended the Graham family and she had a back-office view to some of the most important chapters in Washington and national history. Evelyn’s first husband died in 1974 and she married Sewell Horad in 1986. He was divorced and they had been friends for years.
When Evelyn retired in 1987 as the assistant manager in the advertising department, the Post’s leadership celebrated her career at a party held at the Horad family home in Wheaton. The event drew 250 people, including Katherine Graham, Donald Graham, Effi Barry, and Flaxie Pinkett. Three years later, after a long friendship with Washington Afro-American newspaper women’s editor Mabs Kemp, Evelyn took over the veteran journalist’s society column.
“We ended up calling it ‘Social Pot-Pourri.’ So it covered all the different kinds of social life in the city and there was so much going on then and now,” Evelyn said. Jet magazine, which had reported for years on Evelyn’s social life, wrote in January 1990: “Congratulations to Evelyn Gunn Horad on her new society column, Social Pot-Pourri, in the Washington, D.C., Afro-American newspaper.”
Her first column was published in 1990. Three years later, Washington Post columnist Courtland Milloy wrote about Evelyn’s work: “The photographs and stories by Evelyn Horad are probably the only consistently published indication that a polite black society even exists here.”
Evelyn wrote for the Afro for about twelve years before retiring. She and Sewell sold their Wheaton home in 2016 and they moved to a nearby retirement community.
Sources: Evelyn Horad; Montgomery County Archives; Patricia Tyson; The Washington Post; The Washington Afro-American; Jet magazine. #BlackHistoryDay2018
Note: This post originally was published on the Save Bethesda African Cemetery Facebook page.