Eunice Trotter · 2017

When she initially was promoted to assistant city editor at The Indianapolis Star in the early 1980s,

Eunice Trotter didn’t realize she had become a pioneer: the first African-American editor at the state’s largest newspaper.

By that point, Trotter had been on the staff for about five years, working her way up from covering the police beat and writing obituaries to general assignment reporter. Her long, acclaimed and versatile career has included stretches at the Star – such as serving as assistant business editor and reporting from the Indiana Statehouse – in between editing, reporting and management positions at newspapers in California, Florida and New York.

Also in between her various jobs at the Star, Trotter was the publisher of The Indianapolis Recorder, the third-oldest African-American newspaper in the country.

“Eunice is a pioneer and one of those people whose skill and dedication motivate those around her,” Kim Hooper, a journalist who worked with Trotter at The Recorder and, later, at the Star, wrote in a letter supporting Trotter’s induction into the Indiana Journalism Hall of Fame.

Referring to Trotter’s ownership of The Recorder from 1987 to 1991 – she ran all operations of the business at the weekly then – Hooper noted: “Under her leadership, she reestablished the paper as a credible, delete comma? local news source and provided a training ground for young reporters, editors and graphic designers, many of whom were straight out of college.”

Since 2011, Trotter has been a communications specialist for American Senior Communities, writing stories (some of which have been collected into a book) about residents of the 90 senior health communities owned by the Indianapolis-based company.

She also has been the primary researcher and historian for a PBS documentary about her trail-blazing Hoosier ancestor Mary Bateman Clark. In 1821, Clark filed a precedent-setting lawsuit in Vincennes to end “indentured servitude.” The Indiana Supreme Court ruled this was an unconstitutional form of slavery in Indiana. As a result of Trotter’s meticulous research, a historic marker about Clark has been placed at the Knox County Courthouse.

In addition to trail blazers, Trotter’s extended family includes influential Indiana journalists. She was born Eunice Brewer in 1953 in Indianapolis. Although her father, Charles, was an electrician, and her mother, Henrietta, was a domestic worker, her maternal great-grandfather, Henry Martin, had written “Cruisin’ Around,” a column for The Recorder in the 1920s and ’30s. A great-uncle, Samuel Brewer, was a columnist during the 1930s and ’40s.

“My love for reading was almost on a DNA level,” Trotter says. “Also, I suffered from asthma as a kid and had to stay in bed. That increased my passion for reading even more.”

Once she was up and about, Trotter also found she loved to report. At Arsenal Technical High School, she wrote for the student newspaper. Almost simultaneously, she volunteered at age 15 to run errands at The Recorder, where her ancestors had worked. She eventually landed the gig of writing the newspaper’s popular “Teen Talk” column that highlighted music, styles, events and news about high school students.

After shuttling to New Albany to earn a journalism degree from Indiana University’s regional campus, Trotter was hired at the Star in 1976 by managing editor Lawrence “Bo” Connor, later selected as a member of the Indiana Journalism Hall of Fame.

There were few African-American reporters then at the Star or its sister newspaper, The Indianapolis News, although the break-through had come in 1900. That’s when Lillian Fox, who posthumously was inducted into the Indiana Journalism Hall of Fame, became the first African-American writer at a white newspaper in the state when she was hired at The Indianapolis News.

During more than 70 years following that milestone, neither Indianapolis daily newspaper had an African-American editor in its ranks. At some point after her promotion as assistant city editor, Trotter learned she was the first.

“There were a lot of challenges,” she recalls. “The first ones were proving myself capable – both to myself and to other people.”

Robert King, a reporter who worked with Trotter during her final stint at the Star, said, “Eunice was a unique presence in the Star newsroom and an invaluable one. Eunice seemed to know everyone in town. She knew stories about pastors skimming from the offering and politicians who were philanderers.”

King added, “She was great at pointing me toward credible sources and away from” non-credible ones. Emphasizing that he consistently felt enlightened after seeking advice from Trotter about reporting on a wide range of local issues, King said, “She made me a more well-rounded journalist and a more well-rounded person.”

Trotter has won a trove of honors during her career, including awards from the Hoosier State Press Association. Her reporting career in Indianapolis included a ground-breaking series about the police department’s “deadly pursuit” policies. In her hometown, Trotter also covered the rape trial of boxer Mike Tyson for The New York Post.

That’s because she worked for the Post during one of her periodic stints – usually of about two years each – at newspapers on both coasts. Those stints included the Stockton (Calif.) Record – where she wrote a series about the prostitution industry titled “A Date with Death” — and Florida Today in Melbourne, Florida. In Indiana, she was night metro editor for the Lafayette Journal and Courier during the mid-1990s.

At the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel, Trotter oversaw three departments in the newsroom from 1998 to 2002. She managed a high-profile reporting project about Fort Wayne’s eastside and wrote about the waves of Burmese immigrants settling in the city. (Fort Wayne has the largest Burmese population of any U.S. city.)

“Most journalists move around a lot when they first start out,” she recalled. “When I started out, I was raising my kids. So my moving around came later in my career.”

Trotter is the mother of a son, Nolan Vincent Smith Jr., and a daughter, Nicole Holder. Trotter also has five grandchildren.

Trotter juggled her family responsibilities with the demands of newspaper work that often included night shifts, particularly when she assumed editing and management roles. She has preferred to write and report instead of edit, but not just because of work shifts.

“The real control of the story is in the reporting and writing. Plus, I’ve always loved being immersed in the community.”

By Nelson Price

 

 

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