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BLACK

POWER
TV
DEVORAH HEITNER
Black
Power
TV
Devorah Heitner
Duke University Press Durham and London 2013
© 2013 Duke University Press
All rights reserved
Printed in the United States
of America on acid-­free paper ♾
Designed by Amy Ruth Buchanan
Typeset in Arno Pro by
Tseng Information Systems, Inc.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data


Heitner, Devorah, 1975–
Black power TV / Devorah Heitner.
pages cm
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 978-0-8223-5409-3 (cloth : alk. paper)
ISBN 978-0-8223-5424-6 (pbk. : alk. paper)
1. African Americans in television broadcasting—
United States—History—20th century. 2. African
Americans on television—History—20th century.
3. Public-access television—United States—History—
20th century. 4. Black power—United States—
History—20th century. I. Title.
PN1992.8.A34H45 2013
791.45′08996073—dc23
2013004648
contents


■ Acknowledgments ix

introduction ■ Reverberations of the King Assassination 1

one ■ Welcome to Inside Bedford-­Stuyvesant,


Your Community Program! Visualizing
Black Brooklyn, 1968–1971 24

two ■ Say Brother and Boston’s New Principles


of Blackness 53

three ■ No Thanks for Tokenism:


Telling Stories from a Black Nation,
Black Journal, 1968–1970 83

four ■ That New Black Magic: Black Arts and


Women’s Liberation on Soul! 123

conclusion 153

■ Notes 159

Bibliography 171
Index 185
acknowledgments

■■ This book owes its life to an ambitious and inspiring cohort of media
makers and activists who pioneered this genre. Many of the producers,
artists, journalists and technicians who created the television shows ex-
amined in this volume spent many hours with me, recollecting this forma-
tive moment in their careers. I wish to extend heartfelt thanks to everyone
whom I interviewed, but especially to Madeline Anderson, Kay Bourne,
Elombe Brath, Hazel Bright, Angela Fontanez, Kent Garrett, Nikki Gio-
vanni, Jewelle Gomez, Louise Greaves, William Greaves, Charles Hobson,
Anna Horsford, Stan Lathan, James Lowry, Kit Lukas, Ernestine Middle-
ton, Al Perlmutter, Lou Potter, Bobby Shepard, Jim Tilmon, Marian Etoille
Watson, and Eric Werner. I also wish to express my gratitude to St. Clair
Bourne and to Wali Siddiq (formerly Lou House), both of whom passed
away after I had the privilege of interviewing them and thus never got to
see this work completed. Meeting and getting to know the work of all of
these groundbreaking and inspiring media makers was without a doubt the
most rewarding part of writing this book.
The initial research for this book was funded by a Mellon Humanities
Center Travel Grant from Northwestern University as well as a Humanities
Center Graduate Affiliate Award. I am also grateful for fellowships from
the Northwestern University Graduate School: both a Research Fellow-
ship and a Graduate Research Grant. The University of South Carolina’s
Institute for Southern Studies funded a research trip to South Carolina.
The American Association of University Women American Fellowship
provided much-­needed support during the initial write-­up year.
I am grateful to students in my Civil Rights and Media, Race/Media/
Culture, and Black Cinema courses for insights on the problems and pos-
sibilities of African American media representations. In the past two
years, five accomplished students, Riley Hutchinson, Maya Imhoff, Kate
Schreiber, Amy Slay, and Jenny Steege, helped me with some of the final,
vital tasks in readying this book for publication.
Shayla Thiel Stern’s graduate students at the University of Minnesota
offered astute and thoughtful responses to the manuscript, and folks who
attended my talk at the University of Chicago’s race workshop provided
great feedback on chapter 3. Germaine Haleguoua, at Velvet Light Trap,
offered excellent comments on a small slice of what became chapter 1, and
readers at Television and New Media helpfully reviewed what became a por-
tion of chapter 2. Contributing to Watching while Black offered an exciting
chance to collaborate with Beretta Smith-­Shomade and to address aspects
of Black Journal that did not find their way into this work.
Numerous archivists and librarians pointed me to resources, gave me
excellent advice, and attempted to help me obtain funding for my work. I
wish to especially recognize Ruta Abolins, at the Peabody Archives; Karen
King, at the Maryland Public Broadcasting Archives; and Leah Weisse and
Mary Ide, at the wgbh archives; as well as Michael Kerbel, at the Yale
University Film Study Center. At the Yale Film Study Center, the emerg-
ing scholar Hannah Zeavin provided expert assistance with obtaining film
stills, and I am very grateful to Michael Kerbel, William Greaves, and the
Yale Film Study Center for allowing me to use those stills here. Archi-
vists at the New Jersey City University Library; the Moorland-­Spingarn
Library, at Howard University; the moving picture archive at the Library
of Congress; the Museum of tv and Radio, in New York City; the ucla
film and tv archives; the Ford Foundation Archives; and the Schomburg
Center for Research in Black Culture helped me locate and access video
and documents from the history of Black public-­affairs television. Camille
Billops welcomed me into the Hatch-­Billops collection, a treasure trove
of artist interviews and other materials. Tracy Capers, at the Bedford-­
Stuyvesant Development Corporation, went above and beyond the usual
mission of her position to help me locate the letters and other materials I
consulted for the Inside Bedford-­Stuyvesant chapter. My friend Laura Wolf-­
Powers offered critical insights and research leads on Brooklyn and urban
planning.
A brilliant and ambitious cadre of scholars offered mentorship, re-
sources, and advice along the way, and I wish to express my gratitude to
these individuals. While this project is very much transformed since its
original version, I continue to be very grateful to Jim Schwoch, who was
enthusiastic from the moment we first discussed this project. Jim’s gen-
erosity as an adviser, his encyclopedic knowledge, and his understanding

x  Ackn owled g m ents


of the stages of the research process have been crucial resources for my
development as a scholar. Martha Biondi is a passionate advocate for her
students and for emerging scholarship in this field. She introduced me to
the scholarship on the Black Power era and to Inside Bedford-­Stuyvesant,
which started me down the path to this book. She has been tremendously
supportive of this project and I have benefited from her mentorship as well
as her example as a scholar and activist. Mimi White’s thinking and writing
on television, and her thoughts on this work, have been enormously in-
fluential. Her wisdom and generosity helped me survive graduate school.
Jacqueline Stewart’s connections between lived and scholarly community,
her brilliant writing on Black cinema, and her commitment to the archi-
val practice have been a tremendous inspiration. Her support and friend-
ship has meant so much to me as I’ve moved from being a media maker
in the wonderful Women in the Director’s Chair days to media scholar
and professor. I am grateful for feedback on various chapters and sections
in progress from the Social History workshop and the American Culture
workshop at the University of Chicago, as well as the African American
History dissertation group at Northwestern University. Other faculty at
Northwestern were exceptionally supportive and have offered mentor-
ship at crucial times. I especially want to thank Jennifer Devere Brody
and Darlene Clark Hine. At DePaul University, Jacqui Lazu, Amor Kohli,
Darrell Moore, and Sandra Jackson offered insights on this work, and op-
portunities to share it. My generous and sharp friends Liz Duffrin, Ryan
Lopez, and Cory Stevens were kind enough to read drafts and offer com-
ments at various points in this book’s development. As the book neared
completion, comments from individuals who attended talks at the Uni-
versity of Minnesota and University of Chicago’s Race Center were espe-
cially helpful.
My work has been supported and sustained by a rich scholarly com-
munity in and beyond Chicago. Progressive scholars and fellow travelers
have offered advice on this work, the research process, and scholarly life.
I am grateful to Aniko Bodroghkozy, Steve Charbonneau, Steven Clas-
sen, Mary Gray, Jennifer Fuller, Bambi Haggins, Moira Hinderer, Michael
Kramer, Daniel Makagon, Josh Malitsky, Vicky Mayer, John McMurria,
Quinn Miller, Amy Abugo Ongiri, Laurie Ouellette, Yeidy Rivero, Ahmad
Sadri, Beretta Smith-­Shomade, Shayla Thiel-­Stern, Jennifer Tilton, Amy
Tyson, Gayle Wald, and Michele White. Three anonymous readers for
Duke University Press offered astute and generous readings of this book.
I am immensely grateful for their sage advice and detailed comments. Ken

Ackn owled g m ents xi


Wissoker and Jade Brooks, at Duke University Press, have been both in-
sightful and supportive throughout the process.
Thanks to my whole Chicago circle for making my life here so sweet
and helping me to stay focused on the bigger picture. Thanks especially
to Gilit Abraham, Emilie Amrein, Lori Baptista, Frida Furman, Tracy
Kostenbader, Sarah Levine, Nadia Oehlsen, and Lara Oppenheimer. These
women have sustained me with their friendship through thick and thin.
Amy Ahlstrom, Katie Flynn, Moira Hinderer, Cecilia Lucas, Sara Schnadt,
Catherine Sky, Chloe Smolarski, and Jen Tilton are my girls on the coasts,
and these righteous women also have my undying loyalty. The art, activ-
ism, and scholarship that these women create give me hope for the world.
On a minimal research budget, I know I could not have written this
book without the hospitality of a number of friends and extended family
members who housed me on the road, bought me meals, picked me up
from airports, and otherwise contributed to both my survival and sanity
on the road. My father Howard and stepmother Lois were especially gen-
erous with both schlepping and hospitality while I was in the New York
metropolitan area. Rebecca Bachman, Lynea Diaz Hagen, Federico Hew-
son, Todd Krichmar, Lori Macintosh, Joe Milutis, Roman and Mae Mars,
Naomi Schrag, and Laura and Josh Wolf-­Powers all contributed to my life
in general and on the road in various ways. Thank you!
I am grateful to my family for so many things. My patient and funny
father, Howard Heitner, has been supportive since forever. My mother,
Cindy Heitner, never knew I would take this path, but my determination
to see it through was certainly inspired by her tenacity and strength. My
sister Sarah’s sense of humor about all that our family has been through
and her faith in me are gifts that I am deeply grateful for. My father’s wife
Lois, and her sons Glenn and Seth have added so much to my life in re-
cent years. My cousin Ethan Heitner’s art and activism always challenges
me to do my work and live right, and his love and support have been more
helpful than he knows. My cousin Jessica Shternshus’s supportive encour-
agement is much appreciated. My partner Dan Weissmann became part
of my life as I was sowing the seeds for this project. His incredible family
soon followed. Dan’s mother, Lenore Weissmann, a fellow PhD, has been
exceedingly encouraging, always ready to celebrate the next achievement
with champagne, and to proofread over chocolate. I wish to offer my deep-
est thanks to Dan, who knows a thing or two about activism and media.
He also is very knowledgeable about commitment, love, laughter, and the
sweat of a long project. His exacting journalist’s ear for story kept my chap-

xii  Ackn owled g m ents


ters crisp and his consistent faith in me, excitement about this work, and
sense of humor boosted my spirits as I completed this project. Our son,
Harold, who joined our family during the book-­writing years, has also
been a source of inspiration and motivation as his faith in the world re-
minds me why I was so passionate about social justice in the first place.

Ackn owled g m ents xiii


introduction

Reverberations
   of the King
 Assassination

■■ “Everyone was expecting a truly violent racial outburst,” recalled Ver-


non Jarrett, a prominent African American journalist working in Chicago,
thinking back to April 4, 1968, the day Martin Luther King Jr. was assassi-
nated. Indeed, racial unrest had been steadily mounting throughout the de-
cade, and the previous three years had been marked by uprisings in Watts,
in 1965, and Newark and Detroit, in 1967. Even as racial discord increased
and King’s positions on the war in Vietnam and other issues became more
controversial, for many Blacks and whites he continued to be a preemi-
nent national symbol of the hope for racial harmony. High-­profile assassi-
nations, controversy over the Vietnam War, and a tremendous divide be-
tween races had left the country riven, and many Americans apprehensive
about the future. Many feared that the possibility for racial consensus was
irrevocably lost after King’s murder. Across the urban United States, local
government officials and white business and property owners alike feared
another, even larger uprising by African American residents; Washington,
D.C., Newark, and many other cities erupted with riots when King’s death
was announced. Local television stations around the country offered ex-
tensive footage of King’s funeral. The funeral broadcast on wls-­Chicago
attracted a large-­enough audience that the station decided to initiate a
Black television program, For Blacks Only. Of course, the assassination and
funeral were major news stories, but my research points to the telling im-
plication that another goal of the significant airtime given to the funeral
was to induce African Americans to stay in their homes, in front of their
television sets, as fears of riots mounted. Many cities did experience in-
tense violence; in Chicago alone, eleven were killed and hundreds injured.
Events parallel to those in Chicago catalyzed into existence television pro-
grams focusing on local, Black public affairs in cities across the United
States. Ironically, a major genre of Black critical expression emerged, in
part from these too-­little, too-­late attempts at containment.
For Blacks Only’s genesis in the wake of the King assassination illustrates
how this crisis and the increasing visibility of long-­standing racial tensions
opened up a new space for Black television representation. In Chicago,
wls sought out an African American host for the new show, which im-
mediately marked it as different from the rest of television fare. How-
ever, because of overwhelming racism within the industry, very few Afri-
can Americans worked in television. The station instead looked to radio,
which offered a slightly larger pool of Black talent in its ranks, and hired
the local radio personality Holmes “Daddy-­O” Daylie as the host. The sta-
tion offered Daylie a program focused on Black issues. Daylie accepted
the station’s proposal on the condition that he would have a Black pro-
ducer. He suggested the influential print journalist Vernon Jarrett for the
producer position, and Jarrett enthusiastically joined the project. Coming
from years at the Chicago Daily Defender as well as the Chicago Tribune, Jar-
rett brought with him a deep knowledge of Chicago’s African American
community and a strong connection to a tradition of advocacy journal-
ism. The station’s acceptance of Daylie’s demand shows how the social un-
rest of the period put Black staff members in a powerful position. Instead
of meekly accepting what they were offered, staff members at many new
Black programs immediately negotiated for editorial control, making these
new television programs into influential sources for Black points of view.

Black Public-­Affairs Television:


Televising Black Public Spheres
Jarrett and Daylie shaped For Blacks Only into a program that injected criti-
cal Black perspectives into an overwhelmingly white televisual context,
creating a Black public sphere in an unlikely space. For Blacks Only and
similar programs employed what the communication scholar Catherine
Squires has called a “counterpublic strategy” of engaging “wider publics,”
in this case any Chicago resident with a television and counterhegemonic
ideas.1 According to Squires, a marginalized public could employ enclave,
satellite, or counterpublic strategies, depending on external pressures and

2  I ntro d u cti o n
available resources—a marginalized public may need to employ an en-
clave strategy of “hiding counterhegemonic ideas and strategies in order
to survive or avoid sanctions, while internally producing lively debate and
planning.”2 Under more flexible circumstances, a group might employ a
counterpublic strategy of debating with wider publics through legal means,
media critiques, or protest techniques. A third strategy, that of a satellite
public, “seeks separation from other publics for reasons other than op-
pressive relations but is involved in wider public discourses occasionally.”3
Black public-­affairs programs were a hybrid of enclave and counterpublic
strategies. Programs like For Blacks Only spoke to Black audiences with in-
sider references, intentionally addressing African Americans in ways that
others were unlikely to understand, about issues that most whites knew
little about. While the widespread distribution of the program precluded
the possibility of what Squires terms an “enclave strategy” of speaking
exclusively to Black audiences to avoid repression and reprisal, the pro-
gram employed code switching in order to gain some of the advantages
of an enclave strategy, in a widely accessible public medium. Yet their pri-
mary strategy was a counterpublic strategy—while For Blacks Only’s title
and content emphasized their focus on Black audiences, the program was
distributed in a medium that by 1968 entered almost every home, giving
whites and other audiences a window into African American perspectives.
By privileging Black audiences and letting other viewers work to keep
up, For Blacks Only reversed television’s tendency to address white audi-
ences to the exclusion of others. Defining a space as “for Blacks only” in
the overwhelmingly white hierarchy of television turned the tables from
the Jim Crow legacy of “whites only” public facilities and declared a tri-
umphant separation by choice: a Black space. For Blacks Only covered both
hard news and cultural news, consistently offering alternative perspectives
on issues such as police brutality, gangs, Black student activism, school
desegregation, and price gouging, as well as featuring artists, writers, and
musical performances.4 While a handful of “specials” on Black history and
culture had aired on both commercial and public television earlier in the
decade, they had avoided controversial topics like police brutality that be-
came central issues on programs like For Blacks Only.
Around the country, other station managers almost simultaneously re-
sponded to the same events that catalyzed For Blacks Only, by hiring a
small but unprecedented number of African Americans to start similar
programs. Black public-­affairs programs emerged in large cities, such as
San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles, Boston, Milwaukee, Atlanta, Hous-

Reverberati o ns o f th e Ki n g Assassi nati o n 3


ton, and Detroit, as well as in smaller cities, such as Syracuse, New York;
Omaha, Nebraska; and Columbia, South Carolina. These programs had
bold names that anchored them to local and national communities and to
Black liberation movements. Black culture and politics were documented
and racism sharply critiqued on New York’s Inside Bedford-­Stuyvesant, Posi-
tively Black, and Like It Is; Boston’s Say Brother; Los Angeles’s From the
Inside Out; Pittsburgh’s Black Chronicle; Philadelphia’s New Mood, New
Breed; Detroit’s Colored People’s Time and Profiles in Black; San Francisco’s
Vibrations for a New People and Black Dignity; Cincinnati’s Right On!;
Omaha’s Kaleidoscope; South Carolina’s For the People; and Atlanta’s Ebony
Journal, as well as on national programs such as Black Journal and Soul!
Black Power tv tells the story of the emergence of these programs and
considers their intervention in both Black liberation history and television
history, through case studies of four very different Black public-­affairs pro-
grams: the local shows Say Brother and Inside Bedford-­Stuyvesant, and the
national shows Soul! and Black Journal. In this book I examine the content,
aesthetics, and production culture of these four programs, and I critique
each program’s distinct approach, while considering the collective inten-
tions and impact of this emerging genre. These programs created a space
for publicizing internal debate in Black communities, negotiating between
a lively mix of strategies proposed by Black leaders during the Black Power
era, from about 1965 through the early 1970s, including armed revolution,
electoral participation, economic self-­help, cultural nationalism, com-
munity policing, affirmative action, collective agriculture, separatism,
and other strategies. Programs like Black Journal, Soul!, Inside Bedford-­
Stuyvesant, and Say Brother made these multiple strategies for Black libera-
tion visible and comprehensible to an ever-­widening audience, both Black
and non-­Black. By offering documentaries on figures in Black history, and
by exploring Black culture and art, these shows claimed that history and
culture are constitutive of Black humanity and achievement. By televising
performances, Black public-­affairs programs also made avant-­garde arts
performances from the Black Arts Movement available to a wide range
of viewers, many of whom would not otherwise have access to this type
of art. Programs like Say Brother, Black Journal, Inside Bedford-­Stuyvesant,
and Soul! offered a sharp contrast to mainstream television programming,
which marginalized, maligned, or ignored African American communi-
ties and pathologized Black cultures and Black families, answering the de-
sires African American spectators felt for a chance to see themselves and
their communities represented on television. Extending their impact still

4  I ntro d u cti o n
further, these programs served as a training ground for a new generation
of African American producers, journalists, and technicians that has con-
tinued to redefine the industry long after the majority of Black public-­
affairs programs have ceased production.
The aesthetic of these new programs represented a striking deviation
from television that audiences were familiar with, highlighting the shift to
a more politicized Black aesthetic. The set design immediately commu-
nicated to viewers that these programs framed their stories from a Black
perspective, as conventional news had not. Consider, for example, the
striking image of Lou House, the host of Black Journal, the first national
Black public-­affairs program, making a Black Power salute and greeting the
viewer in Swahili, on a red, black, and green set with images of Black com-
munities projected in black and white behind him. Through both hosts and
guests, these shows inserted new Black aesthetics and fashion into an over-
whelmingly white television landscape. While the few African Americans
on news and entertainment television in the 1960s had conventional self-­
presentations, the afros, dashikis, and jewelry of hosts and guests on Black
public-­affairs tv redefined acceptable tv fashion. Julia, from the nbc sit-
com of the same name, certainly did not have an afro, and the newscaster
Melba Tolliver was almost fired from her news-­reporting job for wearing
an afro, though overwhelming viewer support swayed the station in her
favor. In this era, the personal image was political and the “politicization
of hair” and bodies and clothing became an important site to assert Black
identity and pride.5 Elombe Brath, a fifty-­year veteran of Black media, de-
scribes the psychic transformation of this era: “The whole Black thing just
exploded—the state structure was very resentful of Black people daring to
say that ‘black is beautiful,’ we’re not going to try to imitate white people
anymore. They took it as an offense.”6 Embodying the “new Black aes-
thetic” came to signify a kind of currency on these programs.7

Challenging Jim Crow TV


Television was ripe for change. Most African Americans, and even some
whites in the tv industry, echoed Jarrett’s sentiment that “something
needed to be done about television, which was so Jim Crow it wasn’t even
funny.”8 The Kerner Commission, assigned to investigate the causes of the
uprisings of the mid-­1960s, focused a significant portion of its critique on
the exclusion from U.S. media of African American perspectives on the
“civil disorders.” The report argued that the media had exacerbated the

Reverberati o ns o f th e Ki n g Assassi nati o n 5


riots by sensationalizing them and ignoring their root causes. The report
made headlines all over the country, many quoting the line “Our nation is
moving toward two societies, one black, one white—separate and unequal.”9
The paperback version of the report sold over two million copies. Few
African Americans were surprised by the report’s findings. “The Kerner
report actually dramatized what we had been saying about these two soci-
eties,” said Elombe Brath.10 It addressed the kinds of issues that would
become central to programs like For Blacks Only and Detroit’s Colored
People’s Time, such as police brutality, housing discrimination, inadequate
access to jobs and housing, and persistent school segregation. The Kerner
report criticized media outlets for sending poorly prepared reporters into
riots and castigated television stations and newspapers for reporting and
writing “from the standpoint of a white man’s world,” ignoring the “slights
and indignities that are part of a Negro’s daily life”—a perspective that
might have helped viewers outside Black communities to contextualize the
uprisings.11 Despite the report’s recommendations that newspapers and
broadcasters hire Black journalists, most media organizations continued
on as they had before, doing little to recruit, train, or promote people of
color—indeed, African Americans were actively excluded from many
media professions. But a few media outlets began to provide token Black
media representation in response to the report’s criticism of media organi-
zations. The pressure of years of uprisings and the wave of fear and remorse
following King’s assassination finally prompted some media executives to
return to the findings of the Kerner report and begin to act on some of its
recommendations.
Today, while images of African Americans on television are still too in-
frequent and too often stereotyped, it can be difficult to remember how
absent African Americans were from the screen and how keenly that void
created a hunger for more and better representation. African Americans
were so absent that in the late 1950s Jet Magazine began to publish list-
ings of every African American appearance on tv. On the relatively rare
occasions that Blacks appeared onscreen, African American families and
friends gathered around their sets to partake in the pleasures of represen-
tation. The increasing visibility of the civil rights movement influenced
programs like Julia (1968–71) and I Spy (1965–68), which tried to dem-
onstrate the liberal intentions of their producers by featuring Black pro-
tagonists. These programs emphasized African American equality and es-
chewed the stereotypes that were the hallmark of earlier shows like Amos
’n’ Andy. This program, evolved from a radio show by the same name, was

6  I ntro d u cti o n
performed by white actors using “negro dialect” and trafficked in stereo-
types inherited from minstrel shows. Both the radio broadcast and later
the television program had been targeted for protest by the naacp, and
the television show stopped production in 1953 (though it was syndicated
until 1966). Despite the progress represented by including Black char-
acters, the prime-­time entertainment images of African Americans that
emerged in the late 1960s promoted a fantasy of unrealized social gains.
While Julia and I Spy showed accomplished, middle-­class Black charac-
ters and avoided stereotypes, they also minimized racism at a time when
the United States was at a boiling point of racial tension. By turning a dial,
viewers could move from violent racial uprisings to a world where Black
characters encountered no discrimination. Indeed, programs like Julia
offered white viewers the attractive illusion that America’s race problems
had been solved.
Established public-­affairs television programs of the 1960s, such as
nbc’s Meet the Press (1947 to present) did not pretend the race problem
had been solved, yet their emphasis on government officials as the pre-
dominant source for perspectives on race and other social issues predis-
posed them to hegemonic points of view. Programs such as abc’s Issues
and Answers (1960–81) and Meet the Press defined the genre of public af-
fairs by featuring journalists’ interviewing carefully selected policy-­makers
and analysts, mostly government officials. This emphasis on the expertise
of people in power meant an overwhelming exclusion of Black points of
view from mainstream public-­affairs broadcasting. Civil rights leaders
such as Bayard Rustin and Martin Luther King Jr. were occasionally fea-
tured, but neither Black Power–oriented leaders nor ordinary Black citi-
zens were featured. One exception to the exclusion of more radical Black
perspectives was a 1966 episode of Meet the Press that featured Stokely Car-
michael, along with Roy Wilkins, Martin Luther King Jr., and other civil
rights leaders who held differing points of view about the aims and tactics
of the movement.12 While the questions from the hosts seemed designed
to provoke disagreements between these men, they refused to engage in
a public showdown. Instead, they held an in-­depth discussion of a range
of Black liberation strategies. This kind of coverage was exceptional; con-
troversial figures like Carmichael rarely got to speak on television, and
when they did, they were often edited down to incendiary sound bites cal-
culated to frighten white viewers.13 In contrast to programs like Face the
Nation and Meet the Press, or public tv’s national public-­affairs program,
net Journal, Black public-­affairs programs consciously rethought main-

Reverberati o ns o f th e Ki n g Assassi nati o n 7


stream television’s tendency to insist that expertise emanates solely from
those in power.
Though Wilkins, King, and Carmichael could engage on Meet the Press,
on most American print and broadcast media the turn to Black Power
strategies in the mid-­1960s was accompanied by a decline in sympathetic
coverage of Black political organizing and community activism. During the
height of the African American civil rights movement (1945–65), move-
ment leaders and activists utilized media to advance the cause of Black lib-
eration. Movement strategists like Bayard Rustin and Dr. King were savvy
in their deployment of mass media. In return, journalists and news organi-
zations understood that the movement created compelling tv. This mutu-
ally beneficial relationship raised the profile of the movement while boost-
ing the popularity of television news. Because of this mutual relationship,
the spectacular aspects of the Black liberation movements of the twentieth
century dominate our popular consciousness: sit-­ins, activist confronta-
tions with police, and the large marches. In the Black Power years (roughly
1965–74), activists used new strategies to continue to harness the power
of the spectacular, but the Black Power movement’s tactics and narratives
did not appeal to white identification. Instead, white audiences responded
with fear to images of Black Power, as viscerally as some had responded
with outrage to televised images of families being attacked by dogs and
fire hoses. The performative aspects of the Black Panther Party harnessed
media attention, but usually not sympathetic coverage or reception. In
Framing the Black Panthers, the author Jane Rhodes argues that the Black
Panthers exploited the press, while Michael Staub, a scholar of American
culture, argues that the press-­induced “moral panic” about the Panthers
was part of what forced so many of them underground, weakening their
efficacy.14 For Black Power activists who sought societal transformation
from the grassroots to the government, notoriety, fame, and visibility was
both a strength and vulnerability. Black public-­affairs television reframed
the work of the Black Panthers and other radical Black activists, offering
some of the first in-­depth and sympathetic television coverage they re-
ceived.
While the insensitive and surface-­oriented news media coverage of
inner-­city life was criticized by the Kerner Commission, the riots them-
selves offered television stations a significant but troubling motivation to
challenge the television industry’s overwhelmingly white composition.
During periods of intense upheaval, urban stations hastily hired a few
Black journalists to provide firsthand riot coverage. Stations sent them,

8  I ntro d u cti o n
with little or no training, into Black communities to document events that
white journalists were afraid to cover. One such journalist, originally as-
signed to report on rioting in Newark, New Jersey, in 1967, was Gil Noble.
Noble later became the host and producer of Like It Is, one of the longest-­
running Black public-­affairs programs, on New York City’s Channel 7, an
abc affiliate, which ran continuously until Noble was incapacitated by a
stroke in 2011. Noble’s story demonstrates how the uprisings in this era had
an unintended effect of fostering the first small cohort of African Ameri-
can journalists in television, and how politicizing it was to commence a
media career under such war-­like conditions.15

Talking Back to Television: Media Activism


in the Civil Rights Years and Beyond
A climate of media activism brought about institutional and financial sup-
port that was crucial to facilitating the transformation of Black public-­
affairs television from the token window dressing it was to the substan-
tive challenge to the status quo that it quickly became. As scholars such as
Steven Classen, Kathryn Montgomery, Chon Noriega, Heather Hender-
shot, and Aniko Bodroghkozy have noted, the 1960s and 1970s were an un-
precedented era for television activism.16 Their detailed accounts of these
struggles help us understand the power of pressure groups and the mix
of regulatory and social pressures put to bear on the television industry.
For example, Noriega recounts how Chicano activists collaborated to get
the racist caricature Frito Bandito banished from television, and how they
agitated for new kinds of Chicano representations in both entertainment
and news television. Most of all, these scholars show us in great detail that
the public space opened by television in this era was a resource that many
groups felt was worth fighting for.
An emerging sense that representation was a right, not a privilege,
structured media activism in this era, and one liberal fcc commissioner
even encouraged citizens to take ownership of the airwaves with the hand-
book How to Talk Back to Your Television Set.17 In the previous decade,
activists involved in civil rights struggles agitated for regulatory and fis-
cal structural change in television. While broadcast regulation, especially
the so-­called fairness doctrine, theoretically obligated television stations
to represent diverse social and political perspectives, the reality was that,
except for a few exceptional cases, stations were never penalized for their
routine exclusions of Black people and perspectives. The “fairness doc-

Reverberati o ns o f th e Ki n g Assassi nati o n 9


trine” was a media communication policy that required opposing views to
be aired when controversial subjects were covered. Introduced by the fcc
in 1949, the doctrine was never consistently enforced, but it was used both
by broadcast activists and others to support demands that media cover dif-
ferent perspectives. In 1987, in a wave of other serious erosions of media
regulation, the doctrine was eliminated. Despite the fairness doctrine, in
the Black Power era, as before, Black voices were marginalized, if they were
included at all, even on public-­affairs broadcasting. Black media activists
coupled demands for access to the airwaves with critiques of entrenched
racism and the racist exclusion of Black media workers. Television regu-
lation itself was secondary to activism in creating and sustaining these
programs, though staff members at Black public-­affairs programs assidu-
ously cultivated their relationships with the more sympathetic and pro-
gressive regulators, such as the first African American fcc commissioner,
Benjamin Hooks.
A few southern stations, especially the pro-­segregation wlbt, in Jack-
son, Mississippi, were notorious for “blacking out” national civil rights
coverage in the 1950s. The activists clandestinely documented these exclu-
sions and the “technical difficulties” that would interrupt national news
coverage of the movement, and activists documented other tactics em-
ployed to keep the airwaves white. Activists in Mississippi labored clan-
destinely under threat of violence. Indeed, the civil rights activist Medgar
Evers was killed shortly after his first and only local television appearance,
indicating the high stakes of visibility.18 Despite this targeting of activists,
and the loss within their first license-­challenge case, the activists pressed
on, and wlbt finally lost its license in a higher court. The wlbt case em-
powered other media activists to challenge broadcast licenses, a threat sta-
tions took seriously despite its infrequent realization. Activists’ response
to the censorship of programs such as Black Journal culminated with Ala-
bama etv losing its broadcast license.
While these cases were exceptional, and few stations were actually cen-
sured to this degree, the fact that both a commercial and an educational
station lost their licenses because of racist programming policies sent a
powerful message to other stations. While the riots, the Kerner Commis-
sion’s report, and the King assassination were the catalysts for the prolif-
eration of tv programs with a Black perspective, television activism pres-
sured stations to continue to expand the Black public-­affairs programming
that had begun in the summer after King’s assassination. Groups like Black
Efforts for Soul in Television (best) trained citizen groups around the

10  I ntro d u cti o n


country on tactics for pressuring their local stations.19 Yet, even with asser-
tive citizens pressuring stations, victories such as Alabama etv and wlbt
were exceptional. The ownership structure of television made speaking
with a Black voice in the medium more challenging than it was in the Black
press, where African Americans had greater control of the means of pro-
duction. Along with the fears produced by the riots, broadcast activism
kept some Black programs on the air longer than they would otherwise
have survived. Activism by the staff members of new programs was also
central to keeping the programs on the air while keeping censorship at bay.
The contradictions between the desire to contain Black bodies and the
desire to air Black voices became very apparent as these programs pre-
miered, grew, and found eager audiences. These contradictions betrayed
broadcasters’ ambivalence toward television’s role in ameliorating racial
inequality and social discord. On one hand, television seemed to offer a
perfect, nonviolent outlet for Black discontent, and even provided a way
to contain Black audiences by keeping them at home. But coupled with the
attraction local officials and station managers had toward giving Blacks a
place to let off steam without rioting, television producers and executives
were also fiercely protective of the public influence that television wielded.
Reflecting this ambivalence, they offered minimal resources to these new
programs and chose to air them at off-­peak times, when fewer viewers
would see them. Despite a “positive investment” in the whiteness of tele-
vision, by 1968, social pressure was so great that these “safety valves” for
Black expression seemed necessary.20

Black Power Televised


Speaking at a conference on media and cities, in May 1968, one month
after the King assassination, the historian Lerone Bennett declared that
“divided publics and divided communities” were “a fundamental fact of
life and of communications in America.” This implied, he argued, “that
white-­oriented media cannot solve the race problem in America” because
they were “part of the race problem: they reflect the interests, values, and
aspirations of white people.”21 The message that the media was transmit-
ting, Bennett said, was “that white is right.” “Let us begin there,” he con-
cluded, “and let us realize that the black rebellion is a rejection of that
message and of media institutions which project that message.”22 Bennett
describes a psychic and political transformation in African American re-
lationships to mass culture, a rejection of mainstream culture for having

Reverberati o ns o f th e Ki n g Assassi nati o n 11


done so little to integrate Black people or Black perspectives. Despite the
legal victories of the civil rights movement, white supremacist thinking
continued to dominate mass culture, from prime-­time entertainment to
news programming.
The phrase “Black Power” meant different things to different individu-
als and organizations. For some, it meant political power through militant
struggle and potentially through armed conflict; for others, it meant re-
organizing and separatist politics. Others engaged the electoral system,
leading to the election of a wave of Black mayors in U.S. cities during the
1970s, to new, Black elected officials in Washington, and to a presidential
run for Shirley Chisholm. Charles Hamilton and Kwame Ture wrote in
their manifesto, Black Power: The Politics of Liberation, that they were call-
ing for a “new consciousness among black people,” which they defined as
a “sense of peoplehood: pride, rather than shame, in Blackness and in an
attitude of brotherly communal responsibility among all black people for
one another.”23 Black Power also fostered new cultural and aesthetic asser-
tions. James Smethurst, a scholar of African American literature, argues
that rather than seeing Black arts as the “cultural wing of Black Power,”
one could see Black Power as “the political wing of Black arts.”24 Inclu-
sively defining Black Power as the aim of all the groups that struggled for
Black self-­determination, Smethurst identifies culture as a central facet
of the Black liberation struggle in this period. Embodying and promoting
the cultural and political expression of Black Power centrally occupied
programs like Soul! and Say Brother. Sensitive to the controversial nature
of the phrase, stations generally avoided using “Black Power” to promote
new Black programs, yet hosts like Don Warden, of Vibrations for a New
People, and guests whose names were closely associated with the Black
Power movement—such as Julius Lester, author of Look Out Whitey, Black
Power’s Gonna Get Your Mama, and Kathleen Cleaver, of the Black Panther
Party—spoke on many of the Black public-­affairs shows.
In addition to offering a space to advance new Black Power ideologies,
Black public-­affairs programs also offered a space for articulating rhetorical
self-­defense against discourses and theories culled from “ghetto ethnogra-
phy,” which were influential in academic and policy discourse of the time.
Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s infamous report The Negro Family: The Case
for National Action (1965) blamed many of the challenges Black people ex-
perienced on controlling Black mothers and absent Black fathers, instead
of on pervasive racism.25 Designations such as the “culture of poverty”
thesis had a significant influence over policy-­making in this era, affecting

12  I ntro d u cti o n


approaches to media funding and media regulation.26 Defending them-
selves against the racist and sexist Moynihan report, Black feminists such
as Angela Davis defended Black women from the “illegitimacy, crime and
delinquency” that the report implied.27 Black public-­affairs programs
like Inside Bedford-­Stuyvesant frequently showed alternatives to the Black
family imagined by Moynihan, by featuring well-­behaved children, bright
and ambitious teenagers, caring parents, and beautiful public spaces. On
Soul! Black women and men challenged the insult to their families and
mental health directly in interviews, poems, and songs.
Simply having a Black host on a public-­affairs program was transforma-
tive, both for the station to mark the program as Black and for audiences
and guests who found this to be an important intervention. Discussing
how guests spoke more openly with a Black interviewer than they would or
could with a white interviewer, Jim Tilmon, host of Chicago’s Our People,
describes the way Black activists felt comfortable on his show and per-
formed differently than they did on mainstream television: “Many such
people have never been interviewed by a Black man on the air before. You
can end up with a totally different conversation than they usually give. I
know because I’ve done it—they don’t talk to me the way they’d talk with
a white interviewer.” A reviewer from Variety describes an episode in which
Tilmon brought on a Black student leader from Northwestern University
during a major student uprising there. “Largely portrayed in the local press
as some sort of terrorist, the student gave a cool and insightful statement
of what he thought the relationship between the school and the black stu-
dents should be. . . . It’s the sort of dialog too often lacking on the sub-
ject.”28 The article shows how the leader’s role was repositioned by Our
People, which did not edit Black guests and situations down to incendiary
sound bites, as so often happened on mainstream news in that era.

Picturing a Black World, Authorizing Black Expertise


Productions like New York’s Inside Bedford-­Stuyvesant and Boston’s Say
Brother may have originated from a desire to contain Black discontent,
but they were reenvisioned by their African American producers—often
through intense struggles with station managers or white executive pro-
ducers—as venues for expressing Black critique of mainstream discourse,
disseminating Black culture, and modeling Black empowerment. These
programs rhetorically and visually constructed their own visions of local
African American communities, bringing unprecedented visibility to com-

Reverberati o ns o f th e Ki n g Assassi nati o n 13


munities such as Bedford-­Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. These local programs
highlighted the specificity and achievements of each community, and
while they shared characteristics, each show’s philosophical, pedagogical,
and aesthetic direction was influenced by its location and the individuals
who created it.
At the national level, Black Journal and Soul! allowed for the imagin-
ing of a Black nation and a distinctly African American consciousness.
National Black programs represented and facilitated different aspects of
what the historian Adam Green calls “a Black world,” produced by “collec-
tive interest—and politics.”29 Green argues that national Black magazines
like Ebony built the psychic idea of the Black world, reinforcing the idea
that Black national media coalesced the Black nation, challenging Afri-
can Americans to move past regional affiliations to consider themselves
part of a Black nation. Expanding on the notion of imagined communities,
advanced by the social theorist Benedict Anderson, Green theorizes that
in the case of Black media, collective interests of that community can be
recognized and actualized when the community is successfully imagined.
Furthermore, electronic media have some advantages over print media in
nurturing a sense of community, because of the sense of shared time and
space they imply. In addition to the Black press, a long history of Afri-
can American participation in and activism around access to radio was
an important precursor to television programs like Black Journal and For
Blacks Only.30 Black-­themed radio programming, such as Chicago’s Desti-
nation Freedom, inserted an assertive Black view into the airwaves during
the “Double V for Victory” campaign during the Second World War, when
civil rights leaders called for victory against fascism abroad and victory
against racism at home.
In the 1960s and 1970s African American activists and leaders were far
from monolithic in their ideological approaches and tactics. Television
shows such as Say Brother and Black Journal remind us that there was a
serious effort to engage across the Black political spectrum. As the poet
Nikki Giovanni said of the diversity of Black political and artistic voices
that were invited to appear on Soul!: “It also allowed the opposite to come
in. So you had everybody. You had Roger Wilkins on the show. People that
you would disagree with fundamentally. That’s not the point. The point is
that you are a service vehicle. . . . You bring all voices in.”31 For example,
Louis Farrakhan and a gay television host bantered on Soul!, and older
civil rights leaders engaged with younger activists on Say Brother. These

14  I ntro d u cti o n


television programs created both local and national “Black public squares”
on the air.
Speaking from a present-­day context, staff members recall with some
nostalgia how societal upheaval brought about a cultural moment in which
Black authority was urgently sought after and in which Black staff mem-
bers could speak their minds. Recalling their experiences at Black Journal
and Say Brother, staff members recount that white colleagues at their pro-
ducing organizations seemed a bit frightened of them. “I think at some
level there was a sense that . . . these people can get militant if you will—
not violent but militant,” recollected Angela Fontanez of her time at Black
Journal.32 Stan Lathan, a veteran of numerous Black programs, recalled his
time at Boston’s Say Brother: “We had absolute freedom for the first year;
I think there was a tolerance that came about because at that time we were
able to say ‘You don’t get it because you’re not Black.’ These supposedly
ultraliberal broadcasters allowed us to do our thing.”33
The workplace culture of these programs and stations profoundly
shaped the content and impact of each program. For a generation of Afri-
can American media workers, the lived experience of being Black and the
cultural literacy in Black history and culture that they possessed became
sought-­after expertise. Black media workers were able to mobilize this
cultural literacy at a time when it was suddenly valued. Stations valued
Black phenotypes for riot coverage; they valued Black ontological and
cultural authority for Black public-­affairs programs. White colleagues at
the producing organizations were sometimes intimidated, but they knew
that African Americans were, after all, experts on Black perspectives and
tended to give them a wide berth. This redefinition of expertise typifies the
genre of Black public-­affairs television, and differentiates it from programs
like Meet the Press.

Funding Black Power TV


The funding climate of the late sixties explains how institutional resources
coalesced to foster, for a time, a climate in which Black media makers
could use the medium of television to circulate ideas that were critical of
white corporate and political organizations, including the broadcast in-
dustry itself. Programs like Black Journal, ibs, Say Brother, and Soul! were
funded directly and indirectly by foundations and corporations. The Ford
Foundation was especially involved in directly and indirectly funding the

Reverberati o ns o f th e Ki n g Assassi nati o n 15


television programs explored in this book, as well as many others. The
project of televising Black perspectives united the two central priorities for
the Ford Foundation in this era: civil rights and public television.34 From
1968 to 1974, under the direction of the outspoken McGeorge Bundy, the
Ford Foundation spent $32 million on public television stations. Accord-
ing to Bundy’s biographer, “Public television was Bundy’s creation.”35 In
fact, Bundy maintained that civil rights and public television were his two
largest priorities. Defending his decision to work with Black nationalist
and militant groups, Bundy said during the riots in 1967 that “the Ford
Foundation [would] work with Negro leaders of good will and peaceful
purpose without any anguished measurement of their position on the issue
of a separated power of blackness as against the continuing claim to inte-
gration,” a controversial position that set Bundy apart from most other
whites in powerful philanthropic positions.36
The Ford Foundation was also a key funder of the urban-­restoration
corporations—nonprofit urban-­development organizations that provided
a myriad of services in central cities. While these corporations were criti-
cized by some African Americans for their role in urban renewal, which dis-
placed many African Americans, they also funded numerous initiatives in
collaboration with Black community activists and Black business owners.
The first restoration corporation, established in Bedford-­Stuyvesant, be-
came the sponsor of the television show Inside Bedford-­Stuyvesant, which
was intended to showcase the work of the restoration corporation—
a savvy effort at public relations for the Ford Foundation, initially sug-
gested by a restoration-­corporation board member who owned a large ad-
vertising firm. While the program transcended this initial intention, the
flow of funding that created both the restoration corporation and its tele-
vision program demonstrates how Black public-­affairs tv was a kind of
apex of the Ford Foundation’s (that is, Bundy’s) priorities. The question of
whether to take “white money” from foundations was complex for Black
organizations. In her critique White Money/Black Power, Noliwe Rooks
points to some of the hazards and compromises that arose when African
American Studies departments and Black activist groups accepted funds
from foundations like the Ford Foundation, which, in addition to play-
ing a key role in seeding African American Studies departments, played
a significant role in the early years of public television.37 Ford funds were
essential to the emergence and survival of shows like Black Journal and
Soul! and their local counterparts. Staff members’ ambivalence about this
situation, and their awareness of the vulnerability it caused, is reflected,

16  I ntro d u cti o n


especially on Black Journal, in self-­reflexive documentary segments that
interrogate Black roles in powerful, white-­dominated institutions. These
new Black television programs had what the media scholar Chon Noriega
calls a “highly contingent practice within the nation state.”38 Despite this
contingency, staff members could and did choose to bite the hand that
fed them, by challenging station hegemony, criticizing corporate funders
and government officials, and generally inserting a Black rebellion into the
belly of white media.
This book considers Black public-­affairs programs as an intervention in
television representation and a site for contesting the very meanings and
logics of both race and television apparatus. Arguing that television has a
central place in our understanding of the meaning of race in America, the
author Herman Gray conceives of television as “a dense site or a place of
struggle over the symbolic meanings and uses of Blackness in the produc-
tion of the nation that admittedly gives television a central role in cultural
politics.”39 Building on recent scholarship about Black television represen-
tations that focuses on specific texts, this book engages the intersections of
texts, performances, production politics, and reception.40 This work con-
siders how a diverse array of Black public-­affairs programs intervened in
both the history of television and in the project of rearticulating racial for-
mations that occurred in the Black Power era.

Locating Hidden Archives: Erased Tapes, Oral Histories


The history of Black public-­affairs television highlights how regulatory,
activist, and textual histories are inextricably linked. No single book could
represent the entire spectrum of the dozens of Black public-­affairs pro-
grams from this era. The case studies of the four diverse programs included
in this book illuminate the range of politics, production values, and aes-
thetics that these programs enacted. To address this multifaceted history,
my research included scripts, press releases, photos, oral histories, news
media articles written about the programs, and of course the content of
the programs themselves. To begin my investigation, I searched local tele-
vision listings and identified Black programs through their often unmis-
takable titles, locating tapes of these programs in public archives and per-
sonal collections. As a media scholar interested in the visual language of
television as well as the shows’ historical and labor contexts, I had to focus
on programs that I could view myself. Analyzing a number of episodes of
each program opened opportunities to consider the genre’s aesthetics and

Reverberati o ns o f th e Ki n g Assassi nati o n 17


to analyze the program’s changes over time. Unfortunately, because tele-
vision stations viewed videotape as a renewable resource, episodes were
often taped over rather than saved: most programs are archived sparsely
or not at all, and even those archives that do survive are frequently in-
complete. Some programs are available in archives today only because of
unlikely rescues, like the discovery of many episodes of Inside Bedford-­
Stuyvesant by the program’s producers, twenty-­five years after the program
was canceled. Say Brother, produced by wgbh Boston, is a well-­archived
program, but a few highly controversial episodes have disappeared.
Detroit’s Colored People’s Time is archived, but only later episodes survive.
My decision to investigate Soul!, Black Journal, Inside Bedford-­Stuyvesant,
and Say Brother was based on the archival availability of at least fifteen epi-
sodes of each of these programs from the late 1960s and early 1970s. The
possibility of examining other programs from this time period, in this kind
of depth, simply did not exist, though there are some rich archives from
the 1980s of Colored People’s Time, for example.41 My insights about the
genre as whole also draw from viewing and reading about other programs:
Like It Is, For the People, Our People, For Blacks Only, Colored People’s Time,
Positively Black, and Black Perspective on the News.
Examining local as well as national programs recuperates neglected
Black audiences from invisibility and complicates the notion of Black
viewers as a “minority,” since African American viewers made up signifi-
cant portions of viewing audiences in many cities. Black viewers were
often totally ignored by traditional ratings measures and marginalized by
commercial television’s dependence on ratings systems that offered little
incentive to appeal to specific groups. Local Black viewers’ immense re-
sponse to Black public-­affairs programs offered measurable evidence that
Black audiences were far from complacent. Many were very invested in
a transformed public image and the possibilities of speaking of Black art
and Black liberation in the public space of television. Thus, for Black audi-
ences, local television was of vital importance. Black viewers could and did
march down to wgbh in Boston. They wrote to local programs with their
suggestions and appeared on the programs themselves. This kind of access
to producing organizations made it possible for Black views to have an im-
pact on a medium that could seem very inaccessible to the home viewer.
I found that locating media makers who worked on these programs was
straightforward, as many are still working in the industry. Many were eager
to share stories of an extremely rewarding and exciting time, despite the
challenges they faced as pioneers in a medium that had been almost totally

18  I ntro d u cti o n


closed to, and hostile toward, African Americans. Each of the producers
explained details about the production process, including topic selection,
hiring, and so forth, that would have been impossible to discern from
studying the television programs alone. These discussions illuminated
the behind-­the-­scenes struggles that shaped the broadcast content of the
programs. In addition to interviewing African American staff members,
a veritable who’s who of twentieth-­century Black media artists, includ-
ing St. Clair Bourne, Madeline Anderson, William Greaves, Charles Hob-
son, Dighton Spooner, and Stan Lathan, I spoke with white producers like
Christopher Lukas and Al Perlmutter. Jewelle Gomez, now a well-­known
writer and activist for gay and lesbian rights, spoke to me about her par-
ticipation as a staff member in the early years of Say Brother, when she was
eighteen to twenty years old, a part of her history that is not often noted.
Jim Lowry is a prominent business leader and consultant, but had not
frequently been interviewed about his work on Inside Bedford-­Stuyvesant.
The poet Nikki Giovanni and the actress Anna Horsford shared details of
working with Ellis Haizlip on Soul!, details that helped me to understand
the program’s internal culture. Some individuals, like Elombe Brath, who
advised Gil Noble at Like It Is and continues to work in radio, have worn
so many hats in both Black liberation groups and media work that it is dif-
ficult to place him in a particular category. Individuals like Marion Watson
and Kent Garrett have had long careers in news reporting, after working
on these programs. This combination of archival research with oral his-
tory facilitates an understanding of the ways activists and media makers
attempted to reframe Blackness in America in the years after 1968 by cre-
ating a new public forum for addressing racial justice and by rebuilding
television from the inside out.
Of all of these programs, only Black Journal has received substantial
scholarly attention. In her critique of public television, the media scholar
Laurie Ouellette situates Black Journal and a few of the local Black pro-
grams as part of public television’s contradictory grappling with civil rights
in relation to its mission. Questioning the idea of public tv as inherently
politically progressive, Ouellette explores the condescension toward Black
audiences that predominated on employment-­oriented programs like Job
Man Caravan, in South Carolina, which proposed a solution to high un-
employment in central cities by showcasing employment advertisements
for mostly menial positions, interspersed with live musical performances.
These condescending programs predated Black public-­affairs programs by
a matter of months. In Revolution Televised, the author Christine Acham

Reverberati o ns o f th e Ki n g Assassi nati o n 19


considers Black Journal in relation to mainstream network news and com-
pares it to news programming in general, as well as to a special from 1965
on the Watts riots, which revealed the increasing paranoia and distance
network news was expressing toward Black issues.42 Acham also considers
how Black Journal relates to the changes to the Black image in entertain-
ment television and the emerging Black images coming out of 227, Good
Times, and Sanford and Son. The author Tommy Lee Lott sees Black Jour-
nal, especially during the tenure of Executive Producer William Greaves,
as part of the history of Black experimental documentary film.43 Indeed,
Black filmmaking in this period did find important outlets on television,
including on Black Journal.44 My own examination of Black Journal builds
on all these perspectives: as the show being part of the history of public
tv, as part of documentary film history, and as an intervention in Black
television of the 1960s and 1970s. Rather than centering on Black Journal,
I see the program as one of the better-­known examples of a much wider
movement.

Case Studies
In chapters 1 and 2, I discuss two local programs that emerged under dif-
ferent circumstances. Brooklyn’s Inside Bedford-­Stuyvesant had the lowest
budget of any show addressed here and is the only program profiled here
that aired on a commercial station. Chapter 1 focuses on it and it is the
only program in this volume created prior to the King assassination. Inside
Bedford-­Stuyvesant was initiated by a community-­development corpora-
tion in the Bedford-­Stuyvesant community in Brooklyn, New York, with
the dual goal of showcasing the area’s attractive buildings and public spaces
and of highlighting both the possibilities and challenges faced by the pre-
dominantly Black community. “Welcome to Inside Bedford-­Stuyvesant,
Your Community Program!” outlines the history of the program, focusing
on its unique relationship to the neighborhood. Inside Bedford-­Stuyvesant
asserted a counternarrative to “ghettoizing discourses” such as the Moyni-
han report. On the program, the hosts themselves transform with the
times, starting as members of the civil rights generation who have “made
it.” As audiences watched Roxie Roker and Jim Lowry try on dashikis and
afros, and seem to engage more and more with prevailing moods of Black
Power over the course of the broadcast, they too could get accustomed to,
and possibly engage with, new ideas in their communities. The program
insisted that Bedford-­Stuyvesant’s ghettoization was structural and that

20  I ntro d u cti o n


the neighborhood was a community where culture was made and families
were functional. Of the four programs considered here, this program was
the most accessible for community members to appear on, with “regular
people” who were not leaders or celebrities on the program every week,
along with prominent artists, activists, and community leaders.
Chapter 2 examines how wgbh Boston’s Say Brother represented
Blackness on local public television, offering new possibilities for Black
identity with its emphasis on resistance and cultural innovation, reports
on self-­defense in the face of police brutality, new approaches to celebrat-
ing life-­cycle rituals such as marriage, and coverage of Black women’s lib-
eration. These performances demonstrated a range of possibilities for the
self-­determination of individuals and communities at a time when Afri-
can Americans were reassessing their relationship with mainstream cul-
tural and political practices. Say Brother documented this exploration with
close attention, while mainstream media typically sensationalized, de-
politicized, misunderstood, or ignored these emerging cultural practices.
Say Brother’s staff members modeled a progressive Black Power pedagogy
for African American television viewers. The staff endeavored to portray
Black Boston as it was, while striving to claim a revolutionary vision to
which members of the community might aspire. Boston’s image as a di-
verse and racially progressive community was challenged by the critiques
of institutionalized racism keenly leveled by Say Brother’s staff. This is one
instance where a Black public-­affairs show was not just catalyzed by a riot
but eventually covered one, from a Black perspective. The chapter reviews
history of their coverage and the subsequent censure they experienced.
The program’s youthful hosts offer a perspective especially in line with
Black Power activists, and the context of Boston, with its sense of itself as
a racially liberal city, despite the reality of intense segregation, offers an
important case study. This program was especially aesthetically daring as
compared to many other local programs and had the advantage of coming
out of one of the premier local educational stations, which had superior
production resources compared to many of the other local public tele-
vision stations. While the hosts of Inside Bedford-­Stuyvesant were oriented
to civil rights and initially focused on a strategy of uplift, Say Brother was
hosted by a youthful staff sympathetic to the Black Power movement who
seem to have made Black Power the default position of the program.
The third and fourth chapters examine the Black world pictured
through two national Black television programs, the newsmagazine-­style
Black Journal and the arts-­focused Soul! By demanding Black editorial con-

Reverberati o ns o f th e Ki n g Assassi nati o n 21


trol and limiting white commentary on Black issues, Black Journal was able
to represent a Black world that spoke to both Black and white viewers. By
situating the topics it explored as common to Black people in many re-
gions and nations, the program proposed that Black viewers should con-
sider themselves part of an emerging Black world wherein Africa and the
Black diaspora were vitally relevant.
Chapter 3 examines how Black Journal evolved through several impor-
tant transitions—the transition from premiering as the first national Black
program, while still under white editorial control, to a very public strike by
Black staff members, to the program’s emergence as an experimental docu-
mentary newsmagazine under the African American filmmaker William
Greaves. The program explores how it worked in its early years to imagine
a national Black public that would transcend regional differences, while
celebrating Black America’s diversity. The chapter explores the program’s
focus on Africa and diaspora and the program’s considering of the ground-
breaking step of opening a bureau in Ethiopia. While the chapter closes
with an analysis of the program’s transition to Tony Brown’s leadership,
in 1970, the program’s early years under Brown are addressed in the next
chapter.
Chapter 4 examines how Soul!, which took a cultural-­nationalist per-
spective toward Black arts and music, centered artists as experts on the
Black condition and Black liberation. Deeply influenced by its host and
producer, Ellis Haizlip, as well as several influential friends of the program,
notably Nikki Giovanni, Soul! demonstrated the intersections of art and
politics, especially Black arts and Black Power. The program’s aesthetic
innovations, especially when produced by Stan Lathan, set it apart, both
from other, mostly staid-­looking pbs programs, and from television in
general. Always filmed with an in-­studio “live” audience, this program was
like a salon for the Black Arts Movement. Soul! unabashedly posited musi-
cians, actors, and poets as experts on the state of Black people, of Black
liberation, and of the political and aesthetic contribution of new cultural
forms to Black identity and to the world at large. In some sense the show
transcends the genre of public affairs, but it is nonetheless part of the ex-
plosion of Black cultural and political television programs in this era. The
program is notable for surprisingly progressive gender politics, given the
masculine approach of many Black Power organizations and the public
sphere in the late sixties and early seventies. Soul! was a key location of
Black feminist artwork and was also very progressive in its approach to dis-
cussing sexuality. Soul! became a place to address Black women’s liberation

22  I ntro d u cti o n


and to critique the “intersectional disempowerment” of Black women.45 In
this chapter, I also compare Black Journal’s approach to gender issues in
1970, under Tony Brown, with Soul!’s treatment of gender issues and re-
lationships between men and women.
In the wake of the King assassination, station managers and program
directors at both educational and commercial stations decided to set these
new Black television programs in motion almost simultaneously, so that
numerous staff members of different programs could honestly tell me that
they had been the first Black public-­affairs program. As pressures on Black
liberation and progressive social movements mounted in the late seventies
and the eighties, Black public-­affairs programs declined. As Black Journal
and Soul! were canceled, local programs were slowly defunded. The era of
the proliferation of Black public affairs was over, but some stalwart pro-
ducers continue with the genre even today. This book’s conclusion con-
siders how these programs redefined what was possible for Black represen-
tations in ways that continue to reverberate in television and other media.

Reverberati o ns o f th e Ki n g Assassi nati o n 23


notes

introduction  ■  Reverberations of the King Assassination


1 Squires, “Black Audiences Past and Present,” 447–49.
2 Catherine Squires nuances previous theories of the Black public sphere by pay-
ing attention to the differential uses of strategies and tactics. Squires’s work
builds on scholarly critiques of Jürgen Habermas’s iteration of a “public sphere,”
which emphasize the formation of “marginalized counterpublics,” such as Nancy
Fraser’s concept of “subaltern counterpublics.” Squires, “Rethinking the Black
Public Sphere,” 446–68.
3 Ibid.
4 Eventually, Jarrett became the host as well. The station continued to broadcast
For Blacks Only until the 1990s, under the name Face to Face with Vernon Jarrett.
Vernon Jarrett, telephone interview with author, 2003.
5 Craig, Ain’t I a Beauty Queen? 18.
6 Elombe Brath, interview with author, July 12, 2005.
7 Craig, Ain’t I a Beauty Queen? 73.
8 Vernon Jarrett, interview.
9 Kerner Commission, Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Dis-
orders, 326.
10 Elombe Brath, interview with author, August 4, 2005.
11 Kerner Commission, Report, 366.
12 Joseph, Waiting ’til the Midnight Hour, 156.
13 For example, see the kqed-­San Francisco news report from February 17, 1968, at
the Oakland Auditorium, featuring excerpts from speeches by the Black Power
activists H. Rap Brown and Stokely Carmichael.
14 Rhodes, Framing the Panthers; Staub, “Setting Up the Seventies.”
15 Noble, Black Is the Color of My tv Tube, 25–37.
16 Steven Classen (Watching Jim Crow), Kathryn Montgomery (Target), Chon
Noriega (Shot in America), Heather Hendershot (Saturday Morning Censors),
and Aniko Bodroghkozy (Groove Tube) have all considered the impact of tele-
vision activism.
17 Nicholas Johnson, How to Talk Back to Your Television Set (Boston: Little, Brown,
1970).
18 Classen, Watching Jim Crow, 3–4.
19 Merrit, “A Historical Critical Study of a Pressure Group in Broadcasting.”
20 Lott, “Documenting Social Issues,” 78; Lipsitz, Rainbow at Midnight, 2.
21 Bennett, The Challenge of Blackness, 205.
22 Ibid.
23 Carmichael and Hamilton, Black Power, 6.
24 Smethurst, The Black Arts Movement, 14.
25 Kelley, Yo’ Mama’s Disfunktional! 21–35.
26 “Culture of poverty” was a phrase coined by the anthropologist Oscar Lewis, in
Ethnography La Vida; a Puerto Rican Family in the Culture of Poverty—San Juan
and New York (1966). Lewis believed that the poor were held back by “present
time orientation, poor speech patterns, fatalism and resignation, and low aspi-
rations” (Kelley, Yo’ Mama’s Disfunktional! 25–27). According to the sociologist
Jill Quadagno, this type of research, along with the Moynihan report, which
blamed the problems faced by African Americans on the “broken” and “matri-
archal” Black family, were used by the U.S. government to argue that the state
should be an agent of socialization, and that poor people were unfit for signifi-
cant self-­determination (Quadagno, The Color of Welfare, 35–36). In addition to
addressing the Moynihan report’s significant and lasting influence on U.S. wel-
fare policy-making, feminist critics have also critiqued the report’s influence on
poets of the Black Arts Movement and some Black nationalists.
27 Bensonsmith, “Jezebels, Matriarchs and Welfare Queens,” 262.
28 Undated Variety clipping from the Peabody archives, but the Northwestern up-
rising occurred in April 1968.
29 Green, Selling the Race, 82.
30 Brian Ward’s Radio and the Struggle for Civil Rights in the South demonstrates
the complex relationships between civil rights activists, radio station owners,
and listeners during the tumult of the civil rights movement. Barbara Savage’s
Broadcasting Freedom: Radio, War, and the Politics of Race, 1938–1948 demon-
strates that the history of African American involvement in and activism around
the medium of radio is integral to twentieth-­century Black liberation. More-
over, Savage provides historical accounts of two local radio programs by African
Americans that addressed political and social issues and criticized racism. These
programs, New World a-­Comin’ and Destination Freedom, were pioneering pre-
cursors to the Black public-­affairs television programs that I analyze here.
31 Nikki Giovanni, interview with author, August 4, 2010.
32 Angela Fontanez, interview with author, October 2004.

160  N otes to I ntro d u cti o n


33 Stan Lathan, telephone interview with author, April 2005.
34 The Ford Foundation is a large, private foundation started in 1936 by Edsel Ford.
The foundation funds economic development, human rights, and the arts. The
foundation has been very involved with funding educational television and civil
rights initiatives.
35 Bird, The Color of Truth, 379.
36 Ibid., 382.
37 In addition to foundations, local utility companies chose to sponsor local pro-
grams, while national corporations like Coca-­Cola chose to sponsor both local
and national Black programs.
38 Noriega, Shot in America, 23.
39 Gray, Watching Race, xiv.
40 Herman Gray considers the Cosby Show, arguing that the popular, long-­running
situation comedy about a well-­to-­do Black family is emblematic of how Black-
ness figures on network television. Focusing on the intersectionality of race and
gender, Beretta Smith-­Shomade places the representation of Black women in
television on shows like Gimme a Break into a context of visual art, literature,
and film, showing the still limited but complex ways that television constitutes
race and gender. Christine Acham intervenes in the critical dismissal of situa-
tion comedies that celebrate Black working-­class life, such as Good Times. Aniko
Bodroghkozy and Sasha Torres have begun the important work of interpret-
ing how the civil rights movement represented itself on television, and Jennifer
Fuller is raising important issues about how the civil rights movement is made
the subject of nostalgia and mythologized by more recent films and television
programs.
41 Gil Noble, the producer of Like It Is, intuiting the historical significance of the
program and recognizing the potential for the station to lose this legacy, ob-
tained the rights to his own show. Like It Is is archived at a community college
where Noble has taught. While I was working on the book, however, Noble re-
moved many episodes from the archive, and the resulting uncertainty of whether
episodes would remain available made it difficult to continue working on the
program. Like It Is is especially notable for its global reach and Noble’s long and
wide-­ranging interviews with figures such as Bob Marley and Maurice Bishop.
While the show was especially ambitious on global issues, the connection to
global and diasporic issues and figures is a thread I picked up on in numerous
other programs.
42 Acham, Revolution Televised, 26.
43 Lott, “Documenting Social Issues.”
44 Cynthia Young engages all of these discourses in Soul Power: Culture, Radicalism,
and the Making of a U.S. Third World Left. Young addresses how film, literature,
and art traveled in the radical, diasporic, and interconnected world she terms
the “Third World Left.” Cultural producers from this perspective included the
Third World Newsreel, which created groundbreaking documentaries on prison

N otes to I ntro d u cti o n 161


issues, race rebellion, and gender, and the L.A. rebellion filmmakers, which in-
cluded Julie Dash (Daughters of the Dust), Charles Burnett (Killer of Sheep), and
Haile Gerima (Bush Mama). The crosscurrents from these makers and artists fed
into Black public-­affairs tv—sometimes directly—for example, a documentary
on the Attica prison uprisings made by Third World Newsreel screened as an
episode of Say Brother. Thus Black public-­affairs shows made this work acces-
sible to many interested viewers who might not have known about Third World
Newsreel, or other media made within the context of radical politics and experi-
mental aesthetics.
45 Collins, Black Feminist Thought; Crenshaw, “Whose Story Is It, Anyway?” 406.

one  ■  Welcome to Inside Bedford-­Stuyvesant


1 After the demise of the program, the community would not see a substantial
mass-­media representation again until Spike Lee created a cinematic portrait of
it in his feature film from 1989, Do the Right Thing.
2 The phrase “long hot summers” became synonymous with the urban uprisings
of the 1960s. To get a sense of how this phrase was used in media accounts to de-
scribe urban uprisings, see Powledge, “Civil Rights.”
3 The cbcc was a diverse coalition of civic leaders, church leaders, block clubs,
and other local leadership. This leadership was especially important because
gerrymandering had effectively prevented Bedford-­Stuyvesant from having
elected Black leadership that was politically empowered to represent the neigh-
borhood. The cbcc was active in Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty. Its invita-
tion to Kennedy should be seen in context: the practice of politicians touring
neighborhoods in the 1960s was a way to bring attention to a certain area.
4 “Thomas R. Jones, 93, Judge Who Agitated for Urban Revival,” New York Times,
November 1, 2006.
5 Kimberley Johnson, “Community Development Corporations, Participation,
and Accountability: The Harlem Urban Development Corporation and the
Bedford-­Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation,” Annals of the American Academy
of Political and Social Science 594 (July 2004): 16.
6 Ibid.
7 cdc Oral History Project, “Bedford-­Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation (bsrc),
Brooklyn, NY,” Pratt Center for Community Development, www.prattcenter
.net/cdc-­bsrc.php. For a fuller account of this history, tracing back to the 1930s,
see Wilder, “Vulnerable Places, Undesirable People,” esp. 184–85. For a very criti-
cal account of the Poverty Program, which argues that funds associated with the
Poverty Program were misused in Brooklyn, see Thabit, How East New York Be-
came a Ghetto. Thabit was a planner hired by the Lindsay administration in 1966
to work on urban renewal projects in East New York.
8 Quadagno, The Color of Welfare, 31.
9 Pratt website, www.prattcenter.net.

162  N otes to Chapter O n e