While my newspaper colleagues examine racism inside and outside their profession, I can’t help but think I went through something very similar more than 30 years ago.

I first crossed paths with Jessica Hughes in April 1985 when I called seeking advice about where to host a bachelor party in Philadelphia.  She was a United Press International broadcast sales executive while I was a UPI newspaper sales executive in Dallas.
Back then, UPI was a leading competitor to The Associated Press and Reuters, serving hundreds of newspapers, radio and television stations around the world with breaking news reports from its bureaus across the United States and the globe.
Later that year, after transferring to Philadelphia, I met Jessica for the first time, face to face.  Prior to our meeting, I pictured an erudite, mainline Philadelphia lady.  
She was African American, and it was surprising because UPI did not have many, if any, African Americans in its sales ranks in the 1980s.
Jessica was quite graceful and about 12 years my senior.  She was also a single mother and caring for her aging mother.
A year later, after becoming her boss, we made sales calls together in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, visiting a number of newspapers and television and radio stations. During our trips, she talked about some of her previous experiences, including setting up appointments with people she never met and listening to their racist jokes.
She mentioned their surprise – the shock across their face – when they met her face to face for the first time.  Never did it occur to them, because of how well-spoken she was, they were talking with an African American.
Jessica never said anything.  She was far too professional.  She went about representing UPI gracefully and professionally.
In March 1987, a few months shy of my 25th birthday, with my new boss, taking him to meet a top-paying client, I told him I was resigning at the end of April to pursue my MBA at Northwestern University.  He inquired who should replace me.  
We discussed the likely candidates, and when he asked about Jessica, I said, based on previous conversations with her about my intention to leave, I wasn’t sure she wanted the job.
“That’s good,” he replied.  “Because UPI can’t afford to be represented by a black woman in Pennsylvania.”
I didn’t react to what he said but thought she already is.  In time, she applied for my position, and I enthusiastically endorsed her application.
Weeks later, as my time at UPI was coming to an end, Jessica's status was unsettled.  She wasn’t sure where she stood with UPI’s senior leaders.  In time, they hired someone outside of UPI to replace me.  He was a white man.
A year later, after moving to Chicago, a former UPI colleague said Jessica was looking for me.  I promptly called her.  She was pursuing a racial discrimination lawsuit against UPI and asked if I would give a deposition.  Absolutely, I said.
I contacted her attorney and gave one over the phone, specifically mentioning what my former boss said about the reason Jessica couldn’t replace me.  The smoking gun, as the cliché goes, was out of the bag.
A year later, I took three harassing phone calls from UPI’s attorneys.  Each time, they attempted to get me to recant.  During the last call, I said if the case went to trial, my deposition would become my testimony.
They soon settled with her.

  

What I learned was how economic discrimination is.  There was about a $10,000 salary gap between us.  By not even considering her application, UPI was, in effect, keeping her down.
As for my actions, I do not consider myself any sort of hero. I did what anyone would do for a highly respected colleague.
 
African Americans have a bona fide complaint about discrimination. Certainly not every white man or woman is a racist, but there are plenty of racists out there, sometimes, I learned more than 30 years ago, in the most surprising places.
 
Doug Page, a former News & Tech columnist, worked for UPI between 1984 and 1987 as an editor on the national news desk in Washington and as a sales executive in Dallas and Philadelphia.  He was UPI’s regional manager for Pennsylvania and New Jersey between 1986 and 1987.  Today, he lives in Massachusetts and is a freelance writer.