Many in the journalism community remember him as something of a commanding officer in the battle for racial equality in the newsroom.
But in some ways it was even more of a shock to learn Daily News columnist Clem Richardson had written an obit about Hardy, and that the paper had eliminated, totally, the references to Hardy's historic lawsuit against the paper.
Here's what media critic and former New York Times writer Alex Jones said about the lawsuit in '87: "The trial was considered a landmark because it was the first race discrimination suit brought by editorial employees of a large newspaper to go before a jury."
The four journalists who had filed the suit received a reported total of more than $3 million. Of the four, only one, Causewell Vaughn, survives.
I suppose at this point I should say the following, that I was a reporter at the New York Daily News in the early 1980s when Hardy and others among the "Daily News Four" were readying themselves for the lawsuit. I was a relative newcomer to the newsroom and was not part of the case. In fact, after just a few years, I left on a fellowship and then went on to work for The Associated Press in Mexico before coming back to New York to write for Newsday.
I developed tremendous respect for Hardy, Causewell and the others, for the inner strength and commitment it took to follow through on their actions to remedy injustices to themselves and, by extension, to others of color in those days.
[photo, below, left: The Daily News 4 – Causewell Vaughn, second from left, Dave Hardy, fourth from left, Steve Duncan, fifth from left, and Joan Shepard, sixth from left - win landmark case against the Daily News.]
How far have newsrooms actually come in their commitment to truth and fairness?
The best book I ever read about the experience of being black at a white major newspaper was Volunteer Slavery, written by heroine journalist Jill Nelson, formerly of the Washington Post.
Writing recently for The Root, Jill offered these words about Dave Hardy: "At 6 feet 4, Hardy was enormous in both physical stature and in his relentless commitment to the fight against racism and injustice in journalism." (Read it here.)
Jill noted that former Newsday top editor and columnist Les Payne, who later guided my career in so many ways, would refer to the Daily News as "the only major American newspaper convicted of racism in a court of law."
So why, we wonder, did the Daily News not even mention Hardy's place in American journalism history?
Was it guilt? Resentment? Fear? Or just a push in our faces, with an editor smirking as he or she whispered the words of A. J. Liebling: “Freedom of the press belongs to those who own one"?
Daily News columnist Clem Richardson has no idea who ordered the references to the lawsuit taken out of the story. But he thinks it was a mistake to do so. "History is history," Clem told me.
"I'm just glad we got something in, because he [Hardy] deserved that."
Yes, it seems that when Clem first turned in the story, nothing appeared in the following day's paper at all. It was only when Clem began inquiring what the heck had happened that the story finally went all the way through the editing assembly line.
And it came out a wretched example of what journalism is supposed to be.