In 1979, Viola Osgood and two Globe colleagues asked an editor if they could write about six Black women and girls, ranging in age from 15 to 29, who were murdered in a three-mile radius in Dorchester and Roxbury within a few weeks.
Boston’s media mostly ignored their deaths at a time when a “big deal was made of white women murders — all systems go,” recalled Carmen Fields, who cowrote the Globe story with Ms. Osgood and Gayle Pollard.
The city’s Black community is “a victim of a double standard used by police to handle white and Black deaths,” the women wrote, and the victims were “further devalued by news media labeling of the first two as ‘ladies of the night.’ "
“Viola was one of the important driving forces in making that happen,” Fields said of the article, and of the three Black reporters’ insistence “that these women had lives of value, and that they were entitled to more coverage than just the back pages with a paragraph or two.”
A pioneering Black woman reporter and editorial writer at the Globe, Ms. Osgood was 75 when she died of heart failure April 23 while in hospice care in Chestnut Hill.
When she began writing for the Globe 55 years ago, people of color were rarely hired for newsroom jobs and often treated dismissively.
“I was one of the first Black women to work at the Globe full time,” she recalled in a 1998 Globe interview. “I was ‘the girl,’’ and ‘honey,’ and ‘dear.’ And I was given ‘soft’ stories along with two other Black women, Carmen Fields and Gayle Pollard, until we rebelled and got to do the same stories as everybody else.”
A guiding matriarch of her large extended family, Ms. Osgood started as a Globe reporter and went on to write editorials and opinion essays before retiring, and was a key mentor for people of color who were hired in the newsroom.
“For this young pup she was a sage, dispensing wisdom about navigating the Globe and Boston in the bad old days,” said Gregory Moore, a former Globe managing editor, who arrived in 1986. “She was tough, a fighter and resourceful. And you could tell in her days she was not to be messed with. She earned her respect and I was grateful to encounter her revolutionary spirit.”
Ranging widely in Globe opinion pieces, Ms. Osgood was unsparing in criticizing raunchy song lyrics and bitingly satirical about white firefighters who claimed minority ancestors to gain an edge in being hired.
And her 1987 opinion essay about abortion rights for girls would feel current in today’s debates: “I wonder what ideal family the state House of Representatives had in mind when it endorsed family unity by approving a bill giving parents access to court proceedings to determine whether a minor should be allowed to have an abortion. ‘The Brady Bunch’?”
Ms. Osgood wrote that “the majority of House members apparently ignored the reasons why a girl would seek an abortion without telling her parents. There is, of course, the fact that she might not get along with one or both parents or she fears abuse — physical or verbal — for having made a mistake. The pregnancy could be the result of incest. She could also be reluctant to disappoint or hurt her parents. Or, the girl might fear that her parents will say no and ruin her chances of going to college or pursuing a career.”
Among Globe colleagues, Fields said, you couldn’t find “a better writer, a more dogged reporter.”
Ms. Osgood believed that she and her Black women colleagues had all successfully established themselves in a profession and a newsroom that had long been unwelcoming.
“We came in as Black women,” she said in 1998, “and walked out as respected journalists who did the job as well as anyone else, Black or white, male or female.”
One of 11 children, Viola Osgood was born in Georgia on Sept. 7, 1947, a daughter of Bessie Smith Osgood and Neely Osgood Sr.
A granddaughter of slaves, Bessie Osgood had grown up on a former plantation in a sharecropper family. She worked as a domestic in hotels and restaurants and made sure her children stayed in school.
In a 1984 Globe essay, Ms. Osgood wrote that her first-grade teacher had recognized her intelligence and fierce spirit and told her: “You’d be a terrible maid. You have to go to college so you can get a job you can do.”
And her sixth-grade teacher explained that “it’s hard for Black people to make it in this country. So we share what we have, especially our knowledge. That way, we are pulling each other along as we go upward.”
Ms. Osgood headed north to attend the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and soon nearly all of her immediate family followed.
A Globe internship led to a full-time reporting job. Her first bylines appeared in early 1968, when she was 20.
“I admired the fact that she was a beat reporter on the education beat, and later with the urban team, and then after that, she became an editorial writer,” said Fields, who added that to colleagues “she was very kind in unexpected ways, and quiet ways.”
Ms. Osgood’s first marriage, to social worker Philip Cummings, ended in divorce.
She later married Connie Noonan, a former Globe reporter and chief copy editor of the editorial pages. He died in 2010.
“To people around her, she was a force of nature,” said Ms. Osgood’s son, Joshua Cummings of Ipswich. “She packed maybe three lifetimes into 75 years. She wasn’t wanting for experience.”
Ms. Osgood’s daughter, Alicia Cummings Zimmerman of Frederick, Md., said that “even today I quote things she said when we were growing up.”
“She always told us, ‘If anyone told you that life was going to be fair, they lied to you,’ " Alicia said.
Joshua recalled that “one of the things she told us, and I think it’s applicable now, is that the world doesn’t owe you anything. If you want something, you go and work for it and earn it.”
To Regina McKeon of Brookline, one of Ms. Osgood’s many nieces and nephews, “she was more than an aunt. She was my mentor, she was inspiration.”
Another niece, Audrey Hill of Boston, said Ms. Osgood was “always like a big sister” and was the force behind making sure the extended family gathered annually for a Fourth of July cookout.
“She was very family-oriented and made sure we all stayed in touch,” Hill said.
A celebration of life has been held for Ms. Osgood, who in addition to her children leaves two sisters, Bessie of Quincy and Ruth Williams of Savannah, Ga.; and five grandchildren.
Ms. Osgood “was witty, acerbic, unflinching in her opinions,” her son said.
“She came from nothing, as a Black woman born in the ‘40s and coming up in the ‘50s and ‘60s, and she didn’t let it stop her from being the best she could be,” her daughter said. “I’ve always been incredibly proud of her.”
Ms. Osgood “was always spreading knowledge and pushing you to do your best, and she expected nothing but the best from you,” McKeon said.
“Viola was a fierce spirit. She was a force. When I say she pushed, she pushed,” she added. “Viola’s legacy will live on in me and I will spread her life, her light, her brilliance.”
Bryan Marquard can be reached at email@example.com.